It’s hard to believe that within the past 100 years, issues like political participation of women and African Americans were controversial topics that divided the country. At this point, it seems absurd that anyone would believe women or African Americans didn’t deserve the right to vote, but there were 42 years between the introduction of the 19th Amendment and its ratification in 1920. Now, if one political party was to oppose the suffrage of women or minorities, the opposing party would overtake them in a landslide victory, no matter how reasonable the anti-suffrage party’s views were on the economy or other issues.
The Nov. 6 election has shown us that a new group of issues may be making the leap from controversial and partisan to accepted facts of life in the United States. Of these, the most obvious is same-sex marriage. The battle for gay rights began to gain steam in the late 1960s and has made significant strides since, with same-sex marriage legal in nine states and Washington D.C., and the ubiquity of realistic and progressive portrayals of the LGBT community in the media.
However, there’s still a lot of progress to be made: 41 states continue to reject the validity of same-sex marriage. Though, in this election cycle, gay marriage won battles in every single state where it was in question: Maine, Maryland, Washington and Minnesota.
Each of these was a ballot initiative, which means every state voter had a say. Because of this, it can’t be argued that this is a case of the government usurping popular opinion, as organizations like the National Organization for Marriage have maintained about similar court rulings or legislative decisions. The people spoke, and they spoke overwhelmingly in favor of same-sex marriage.
Another oft-publicized point of contention during this campaign was the argument over abortion and access to birth control. Although Roe v. Wade was passed nearly 40 years ago, there’s still a significant number of Americans who believe that abortion should be made illegal except in cases of rape or incest — some even believe that it should be altogether outlawed no matter the circumstances. However, it seems that most of the population is hesitant to make it completely illegal. In a May 2012 Gallup poll, 77 percent of Americans responded that abortion should always be legal or sometimes legal. Despite this fact, the Republican Party continued to stand behind their position, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they now represent a minority of the population.
In a democracy like ours, the government should be ruled by the people, not the other way around. It’s easy to lose faith in the system and to believe that individual voices and opinions don’t really matter. But then an election like this comes around and reminds us that changing the minds of the voting public really can make an impact on the government.
It seemed like the way many people framed this election was around the issues of gay marriage and abortion, rather than on more complex subjects such as the economy or the environment. I prefer these Democratic economic models to that of the Republican Party. However, I’d rather hear an election that was a debate between two different plans to actually make the United States a better place to live, rather than bickering over subjects that the majority of the country has come to agree upon. Rachel Maddow said it best on election night, saying that if the Republican Party continues to focus on outdated issues, “we are all deprived, as a nation, of the constructive debate between competing, feasible ideas about real problems.”