Although President Barack Obama’s re-election dominated media coverage Tuesday night, several states around the country also made news by voting on particularly divisive social justice issues — and moved in a largely progressive direction.
Maine, Maryland and Washington legalized same-sex marriage after long and bitter battles, and Minnesota voted not to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman, while four other states legalized marijuana usage in some capacity. Yale students hailing from these states said they were largely unsurprised by the results of the ballot initiatives, characterizing them as evidence of the more liberal values of a younger generation of voters.
Amalia Skilton ’13, a campus activist, said activism around marriage equality is especially important for people her age.
This past semester, Skilton worked on the “Yes on 1” campaign in Maine, an ultimately successful second attempt to legalize same-sex marriage in the state. In 2009, Maine voters rejected marriage equality after legislation permitting same-sex marriage was approved by the state’s legislature and governor. This year, Maine became the first state in which supporters of same-sex marriage collected enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot themselves.
All three states were the first in the union to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote. Same-sex marriage had already been legalized in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia, but only by lawmakers or through court rulings.
As of press time, it appeared that in Minnesota, voters had narrowly voted down a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would ban same-sex marriage as well.
Hilary O’Connell ’14, president of Yale’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Cooperative, said young LGBTQ invididuals saw legal barriers to marriage equality as communicating that they are “not good enough to form families.” At this point in their lives, she added, many young voters are especially sensitive to that idea, as they are beginning to think about having families of their own in the future.
Skilton placed the push towards legalizing same-sex marriage in perspective: She said that she believed other states’ embrace of such legislation — most notably the bipartisan passage of marriage equality legislation in New York last year — infleunced Maine voters’ decisions.
“Maine realized same-sex marriage doesn’t cause the end of the world,” she said, adding that organizing in the state since the 2009 initiative’s failure has “changed people’s minds.”
Marijuana legalization, another issue traditionally considered important to young voters, also had a landmark Election Day. On Tuesday, Colorado and Washington voted to legalize, regulate and tax recreational marijuana usage, while Massachussetts and Montana voters chose to permit the use of medical marijuana.
Maren Hopkins ’14, who hails from Boulder, Co., said she expected her state to legalize the limited possession and sale of marijuana in the election, as it eventually did, in large part because of the votes of young people, particularly in college towns.
Massachusetts resident Jonah Bader ’16 said that even though his state had already decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2008, he was surprised that the medical marijuana question passed, especially by such a large margin.
“People were worried about Massachusetts’s seeing the same types of abuses of medical marijuana that have been seen in California,” Bader said.
Oregon and Arkansas deviated from the trend towards change by voting to keep marijuana usage — recreational and medical respectively — illegal.
Travis Heine ’14, the president of Choose Life at Yale, said he saw young people as “fired up” about traditional conservative values. Speaking before the election, he said he would count the passage of Amendment 6 in Florida, a prohibition on the use of state tax money for the provision of abortions, as affirmation of the pro-life movement’s momentum.
Florida eventually struck down Amendment 6 on Tuesday, though Montana passed legislation requiring a minor to notify her parents 48 hours in advance of having an abortion.
Rafi Bildner ’16, an Obama supporter who spent last night at the Obama headquarters in Chicago, said he saw the legislative trend as representing a shift in the national conversation.
“The mainstream in this country is becoming more accepting and more progressive on social issues,” Bildner said. “It’s not just a movement anymore: This is the norm.”
National exit polling from CNN as of press time said that 18-29 year olds favored Obama over Republican challenger Mitt Romney by 22 points in Tuesday’s election.