Marijuana and same-sex marriage votes show US mellowing
Several popular votes on social issues have significantly altered the course of US policy by approving same-sex marriage and legalising the recreational use of marijuana for the first time.
The outcome represents a milestone for groups who have pressed for decades for the causes of gay rights and the decriminalisation of drugs.
In the process, it is recasting the popular image of the US as a largely conservative country, as increasing numbers of states – eight, at last count – allow same-sex couples to marry.
Popular votes to legalise marijuana were passed in Colorado (about 55 per cent supported the measure) and Washington (also 55 per cent), two states that had already allowed medical use of the drug.
The votes in Colorado and Washington are likely to set up a confrontation between their state governments and the US Department of Justice. This is because marijuana is still illegal under US federal law, which carries greater weight than than state law.
Maine and Maryland have become the first states to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote.
The outcome of the marriage vote could influence the US Supreme Court. It is due to consider whether to take up cases challenging the law that denies federal recognition to same-sex marriages.
In Washington state, meanwhile, the counting continued yesterday. With nearly 50 per cent of the ballots counted yesterday, the proposal was leading with 52 per cent of the vote.
The gay rights victories come at a time when national polls are showing for the first time a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage.
“This is a landmark election for marriage equality and we will forever look back at this year as a critical turning point in the movement for full citizenship for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Council, a group that works for equality issues.
“As we celebrate victory tonight we know we have added momentum to ensure that this victory is soon felt in every corner of this country. Poll after poll shows a majority of Americans supporting marriage equality and the numbers continue to grow every single day.”
Marijuana legalisation campaign groups also celebrated a historic result. Under the Colorado measure, adults aged 21 or older may possess up to an 1oz of the drug, though using it publicly would be banned.
There were other notable referendums in states such as Kentucky, where voters overwhelmingly supported a measure to make hunting a constitutional right. Other states – Nebraska, Wyoming, and Idaho – backed similar measures in large numbers.
In Louisiana, voters supported a ballot to strengthen gun rights. Any restrictions in gun rights will now require strict court review.
In Massachusetts, a vote to allow doctor-assisted suicide in the state failed narrowly. The measure voted was defeated 51 per cent to 49 per cent.
In California, a measure to abolish the death penalty on cost grounds was heading for rejection but voters agreed to soften a “three strikes” law that gives longer sentences to recidivist criminals.