On November 6, 2012, voters in four states—Maryland, Washington, Minnesota, and Maine—were asked to cast ballots on the issue of same-sex marriage. Although not all of the results are official, the future for same-sex couples in these states is looking good. Residents of both Maryland and Washington voted in favor of new laws that will legalize same-sex marriage. Voters in Maine approved a new initiative that would legalize same-sex marriage, and voters in Minnesota rejected a law that would have constitutionally banned same-sex marriage.
But these voters did more than show their support for gay couples; they made history. Prior to this night, thirty states had asked their residents to decide who should be able to marry whom; prior to this night, not one state had ever approved of a law that legalized same-sex marriage, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. With each of these past votes, the American public’s stance on gay couples had been made clear: We don’t mind them making appearances on our TV shows, but we can’t have them taking over our courthouses with their marriages or cluttering up our constitutions with their rights.
All of that changed on election night 2012. I can’t help but wonder, can’t help but hope, that maybe this is the beginning of a change. Maybe in the future, people who are given the opportunity to vote on this issue will show their acceptance of same-sex couples. But while I celebrate these states’ victories and envision a more positive future, I can’t help but wonder if this issue is really something that we should be voting on at all.
I should stop here and say that I am a big fan of voting. I blame my Iowa upbringing. Before I knew what a primary presidential race was, I knew that every four years Iowa’s caucus was the first—and best—in the nation. I knew that I had the privilege of deciding who could be the next president before anybody else and that not taking advantage of that privilege was a sin. In short, I believe that voting is good. I think that people who decide their voice won’t be heard and ensure that it isn’t by not voting suck.
All this being said, it is difficult for me to fathom why the general public should be allowed to take their opinions to the polls and decide how individual people can live their lives. Our laws and constitutions are not in place to reflect our opinions; they are there to protect our rights.
To put the issue of same-sex marriage up to vote gives our opinions an importance that they simply do not deserve. Regardless of the outcome of these election night votes or any votes on the marriage issue that will come in the future, I believe this sort of vote is unpatriotic at its core. Same-sex marriage should not be legal because popular opinion says so. It should be legal because our Declaration of Independence guarantees that every man is equal. It should be legal because it is the right thing to do. We need to stop these state-by-state votes. Our courts need to step up and speak up and guarantee all Americans the rights that they deserve.
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