Lauren Snead, right, hugs her partner Katy Jayne, left, as they celebrate the legalization of same-sex marriage Tuesday Nov. 6, 2012 in Portland, Maine.(Photo: Joel Page, AP)
The election produced ground-breaking steps on a pair of social
issues, as voters endorsed same-sex marriage in four states and
legalization of marijuana in two.
"Think of this as the Will and
Gracification of America," Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse Unruh
Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, says of
the gay marriage vote. "Programs like Will and Grace and Glee are having a similar effect as the Cosby Show did back in the 1980s."
Future implications for the nation in politics and policy could prove dramatic.
marriage, once so controversial that opponents used the issue to
demonize liberal backers, won victories in Maine, Maryland and
Washington. Minnesota rejected a constitutional amendment banning gay
Schnur says polls show the young are far more liberal
about gay marriage than those over 50, and far more likely to know
openly gay people.
Colorado and Washington approved legalizing marijuana for recreational use, defying a federal prohibition since the 1930s.
Just two years ago, California rejected marijuana legalization, and many states have acted to ban gay marriage in the past.
of same-sex marriage and recreational use of marijuana came as a rebuke
to longstanding federal policies the Defense of Marriage Act, which
defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and federal drug policies
against marijuana. Ballot measures that had failed for years on
same-sex marriage and drug decriminalization this time won approval.
marriage supporters won in all four states where it was up for a vote.
Two states, Washington and Colorado, legalized the recreational use of
marijuana while Oregon defeated it. Massachusetts approved marijuana for
medical reasons, while Arkansas rejected it.
"This represents a
big change in American society," says Jennie Bowser, a ballot issues
expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Maryland and Washington legalized same-sex marriages. Minnesota rejected
a constitutional amendment banning them, though gay marriage remains
illegal there. The votes ended a 14-year, 32-state losing streak when
the issue was put to voters instead of being decided by courts or
legislatures and signal what some analysts call a cultural shift.
opinion is rapidly changing on gay marriage, heavily influenced by
younger voters, said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh
Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. Polls
have found "a huge differential on this issue in terms of age." Voters
over 50 are most opposed and voters 18 to 29 are most supportive of
same-sex marriage. "The generational divide is stark,'' he said.
people are more likely than their elders to know others who are openly
gay or in a same-sex relationship and are more accepting of it, he said.
While demographics played a part in Tuesday's outcomes, outreach
played a key role, said Brian Silva, executive director of Marriage
Equality USA in New York City. "When we introduce ourselves and show how
boring and normal we are, just like every other American family, people
Demographics aren't all one way, said Chuck Darrell of
Minnesota for Marriage, the group that sought to add a ban on gay
marriage to the state constitution. While younger people may be more
positive about same-sex marriage, that changes as they age, he said.
"When the younger generation has children, the number supporting
same-sex marriage drops quite a bit," he said.
Couples in Maine
could be able to marry no later than Jan. 4, possibly by Dec. 6 in
Washington and after Jan. 1 in Maryland. Gay marriage is currently legal
in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont
and the District of Columbia.
The decision by voters in Colorado and Washington to legalize the
recreational use of marijuana taking consumption of the drug well
beyond its use for medicinal purposes that is legal in 18 states and the
District of Columbia overturned decades of marijuana prohibitions.
Justice Department, which still regards marijuana as an illegal drug in
the same class as heroin and LSD, has declined to say how it would
respond if the measures were approved.
Voters' decision to
legalize marijuana could cause wide-reaching implications for employers
unsure what it means for their hiring and firing practices. "There are
no answers, only questions," said Carl Maxey of Maxey Truck &
Trailer Equipment in Fort Collins, Colo., which drug-tests prospective
employees and any worker involved in a workplace accident. "It is a very
awkward position to put employers in right now."
The Colorado law
does not require employers to permit the use of marijuana in the
workplace, but it's unclear whether an employer can restrict the use by
an employee in non-work hours. "It's virtually impossible to prove ...
unless they see someone lighting a doobie at work," said Mountain States
Employers Council staff attorney Curtis Graves.
It's possible for
a state to legalize something the federal government deems illegal,
said Jonathan Caulkins, a specialist in drug policy at Carnegie Mellon
Heinz College in Pittsburgh. New York legalized alcohol in 1923 during
American attitudes about marijuana use have been
steadily changing. In 2011 a record 50% of Americans told Gallup
pollsters that use of marijuana should be made legal, up from 46% in
There's also a growing realization that the war on drugs
launched by President Richard Nixon in 1971 has been "a destructive
failure," said Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement
Against Prohibition, a national group based in Baltimore that was
involved in both the Colorado and Washington campaigns.
the shift to America's alcohol prohibition in the 1920s. "It was the
states that began to push back, one-by-one, until the feds finally got