Smoke signals


While President Obama was piling up electoral votes on the way to winning a second term, several states were passing ballot measures that point to significant changes in the nation’s social attitudes. For some, this was the day when controversial measures became conventional.

The most portentous victories came in Maine, Maryland, and Washington state, where voters approved same-sex marriage. Minnesota rejected a proposal that would have restricted marriage to heterosexual unions.

The half-dozen states that previously allowed gay couples to marry did so through their legislatures or courts, a point of contention for opponents who blamed activist judges or liberal lawmakers for approving what the public would not.

That seemed to be the case — until this month. Gay marriage had lost 32 consecutive times when it was put up for a popular vote. Yet public opinion polls have suggested increasing tolerance on the issue. They have seen that heterosexual marriages and the institution of marriage are not threatened, despite what opponents have argued.

The three victories suggest which way the tide of tolerance seems to be running, even if it still has a long way to run before socially conservative states accept the idea.

The results increased the likelihood the U.S. Supreme Court would take up a case testing the constitutionality of a federal law that denies recognition of gay marriages. Ohio voters may see a ballot proposal next year that would legalize same-sex marriage here.

Times are changing and attitudes toward gay marriage are not the only evidence. On Election Day, voters in Washington state and Colorado legalized the use of marijuana as a recreational drug. This is a step beyond medical marijuana and puts these states at odds with federal law.

Where will it all end? Perhaps with an America focused on far more important issues than people pursuing happiness in their own ways.