We will remember them for the ebb and flow of the presidential confrontation between President Obama and Mitt Romney, and its attendant drama, both media-manufactured and real. But, in the long run, we wonder if the exercise in direct democracy that played out in the decisions of four states on the matter of marriage equality will outweigh the important consequences of the this election cycle at the “top of the ticket”.
After the Massachusetts landmark 2003 Supreme Judicial Court decision to permit same sex marriage, the acts of five other supreme courts or legislatures followed suit over time. Sometimes these actions were controversial. Interests opposed to the SJC’s action attempted to block the decision by legislative action here, before its May 2004 effective date. In Iowa, the voters purged its Supreme Court justices blamed for the legalization decision. When legislatures acted in New York, Vermont and Washington, D.C., the opposition reaction was more muted. After all, the action was legislative and not the result of “judicial activism”.
November 2012 was different. It was direct democracy in action. In these states, the populations led the leaders. In Maine, Washington State and Maryland, the voters seized the initiative and extended marriage affirmatively to gay and lesbian couples by referendum. Remarkable actions all, but standing alone, they might still be marginalized as coastal elitism. But Minnesota stands alone. For the first time, a state in the middle of the country, by statewide vote, declined to ban gay marriage, after years of other states doing exactly that.
“Suddenly”, twenty per cent of the states embrace marriage equity. Was all of this simply a product of blue states in a presidential turnout year being encouraged by Vice-President Biden’s “accidental” outing of the administration’s support of marriage equality – followed by the President’s public affirmance? Or was a cresting wave hitting the social fabric of the country? The answer may be “both of the above”, but if history is a guide, November 2012 will be remembered as the date that hastened the end of official discrimination against gays and lesbians.
With a plateful of economic and foreign policy crises, and maybe even some long overdue attention to our ongoing national gun/mental health negligence, it cannot be in the forefront, but can the end of federal discrimination, festering in Defense of Marriage Act, survive much longer? With the Supreme Court accepting one Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) challenge, and the marriage equity case from California, for review this term, we cannot know if the trend will be encouraged or slowed. But, in the end, the painful and gradual, but continuing trend of civic emancipation continues: and November 2012 will take a place of significance in that history.