Let’s think about this.
Generally, we ascribe to the average Republican a conservative morality that should have been offended by such radical ideas – especially by gay marriage. Yet of the 35 states which legalized gay marriage before the Supreme Court decision of June 26, twelve are Republican states, with Republican governors and Republican-controlled legislatures. In fourteen of the remaining twenty-three states, power is divided, with legislatures and governors of different parties. (Of the fifteen states where gay marriage was not legal before the June 26, all but one was solidly Republican.)
What conclusion can we draw?
Perhaps we are simply wrong about the average Republican. Perhaps while the average Republican is conservative politically, he or she is much more open to social change, at least when it comes to sex and drugs.
Or perhaps the Republicans in the state capitals weighed the positive effect gay marriage support would have on independent voters, who tend towards liberalism or libertarianism, against the effect it would have on their Republican constituency, who probably would vote for them nevertheless.
Or perhaps the legislators simply were under the spell of Hollywood and HBO who for five to ten per-cent of our waking hours manipulate our minds and emotions – legislators no less than the rest of us. From romantic comedy to gritty police procedural to costume drama, the good guys are always social progressives (like the writers who create them).
Or perhaps the legislators simply were responding to public opinion. After all, according to virtually all poles since 2011, both gay marriage and marijuana legalization are favored by a majority of Americans. But in six of the states which passed gay marriage laws, the pollsters found majorities were against it. And in three of the states which did not pass gay marriage laws – Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio – the majorities supported gay marriage.
But why these measures passed in so many states is not important. What is important is the simple fact that they did pass. Clearly, state legislators, although appearing to be more conservative than those in Washington, are practically less so, and are prepared to consider bills and pass laws which Congress would not pass. There was a rash of anti-gay marriage legislation proposed in the 2005-2006 Congress – none of it passed, of course – but a bill legalizing gay marriage has never been introduced there.
I wonder if there are other reforms which could not pass in Congress but could be implemented in a state-by-state fashion?
New York’s Governor Cuomo recently banned fracking in the state. Before that, the New York legislature, while not banning it, has kept on renewing and extending a moratorium on fracking in the state. Anti-fracking is similar to gay marriage and marijuana legalization in being a fairly extreme progressive position on a single narrow, specific issue. If thirty-five states passed anti-fracking laws, would that force Washington to ratify anti-fracking on a federal level, as it recently did for gay marriage through the Supreme Court, and as it will – sooner or later – for marijuana legalization? Maybe, maybe not. Anti-fracking is different from the other two movements because it is prohibitive instead of permissive.
What about raising taxes on the wealthy? States are reluctant to pass such laws because of the fear that the wealthy would then simply move to another state. Or, that’s the excuse, anyway. In truth, state legislators seem to be activists about keeping the rich rich. Except in six states – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, New Jersey and Oregon – the middle class pays a higher effective state tax than the wealthy. Somehow, I don’t think that wealth taxes are more likely to come out of the states than Congress.
There is one area where change is desperately needed and for which, like marriage and criminal law, the state has plenty of jurisdiction: education. The majority of Americans still support the Federal Government’s Common Core curriculum, but the size of that majority has been dropping from year to year. In 2013, polls show Common Core supported by 65% of the general public, 57% of Republicans, 64% of Democrats and 76% of teachers. One year later, those numbers had fallen to 53% of the general public, 43% of Republicans, 63% of Democrats and – most notably – only 46% of teachers.
Here’s a prediction: When public opinion turns decisively against the Common Core standards – which it will very soon, unless there are changes which allow for more local autonomy in implementing them – the states will begin to pass laws modifying them. There is a valid states’ rights argument against Federal control of education, so the states would have good chance of overturning Common Core in the Supreme Court.
One progressive reform does seem to be slowly passing on a state-by-state basis: the abolishment of the death penalty. Seventeen states do not have capital punishment. Five states abolished it between 1846 and 1911. Massachusetts abolished it in 1947. Four states abolished it in the Age of Aquarius. Since 2004, seven more states have abolished it. That looks like a trend to me. (The Supreme Court historically, uncharacteristically, has dithered about the death penalty, with decisions all over the map. It’s attitude is similar to that of a squeamish householder who has a dead rat on the floor and, unable to pick it up and throw it out, kicks it under the couch, until it begins to stink, sweeps it into a corner, throws some newspapers over it, while all the time it becomes more and more disgusting.)
All in all, I would recommend that those promoting progressive agendas over which states have some jurisdiction leave the strange and out-of-touch confines of the beltway and go to the state capitals, where governments are still in touch with reality, at least somewhat.