The evolution of human rights

The flurry of this election year over the presidential race has been the roller coaster ride of the ages. Both exciting and nauseating, the political onslaught has refocused national media attention, leaving local politics out in the cold.

One of the most important issues being addressed this year alongside the election of the nation's next president addresses the modern day civil rights issue of marriage equality. Four states - Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Washington - will have ballot initiatives ruling on the legality of same-sex marriage.

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Most states have already voted on the issue of marriage equality, limiting the legal focus to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Between 1998 and 2012, there were 31 votes in 30 states on this issue, all resulting in a ban on same-sex marriage.

The single exception was in Arizona. In 2006, voters rejected same-sex marriage ban but then went on to approve it in the 2008. Minnesota will become the 31st state to consider a constitutional provision seeking a ban on same-sex marriage.

Google employees show support for marriage equality in ad campaign

 

In 2009, voters in Maine were asked whether they wanted to uphold or reject a law passed by the legislature that legalized same-sex marriage; voters rejected that law but will reconsider a new proposal to legalize same-sex marriage on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

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And also in 2009, the Washington Legislature sought to legalize domestic partnerships and voters  agreed to extend these rights to same-sex couples but no state so far has approved the legalization of same-sex marriage.

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The Breakdown

In Maine, the initiative on the 2012 ballot seeks to legalize same-sex marriage. This is the first time a state's voters have been directly asked to legalize same-sex marriage, rather than prohibit it.

Maryland voters will consider a popular referendum to overturn a new law legalizing same-sex marriage.

Like Maryland, Washington has a popular referendum on the ballot that aims to overturn a new law legalizing same-sex marriage.

The state legislature in Minnesota referred a same-sex marriage ban to the ballot. This question is similar to those that have appeared on the ballot in 30 other states since 1998.

Minnesota "follows the pattern established over the past decade of asking voters to insert into the state constitution a definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman," according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The other three issues differ considerably.

(Pro-gay marriage Catholics defy church on ballot initiatives)

No state has even had the ballot question like the one regarding marriage equality like it is in Maine. Voters will be asked to support the legalization of same-sex marriage, rather than vote against it. Three years ago, Maine had a similar initiative like the ones in Maryland and Washington this time around, and voters overturned a law passed by the legislature legalizing same-sex marriage.

"There is another major change in the issue of same-sex marriage this year, and that is voter opinion. Both national and state-specific polls on same-sex marriage indicate that voter opinion has shifted significantly over the past decade, and NCSL data on voter behavior supports that conclusion," according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

 

Spotlight: The Four 2012

The Four 2012 is a website dedicated to tracking the latest news regarding the marriage equality measures in the four states considering legalizing same-sex marriage.

"Marriage equality is about to take a huge step forward. Momentum is on our side and - if we can create a massive groundswell - we can create a massive victory for marriage equality in the United States. In FOUR states there are marriage ballot initiatives - FOUR states we have to win," The Four 2012 said, as proponents of these initiatives.

"Though anti-gay and anti-human rights organizations in our country are mobilizing - putting vast sums of money and resources into all four states to defeat us. In the past, despite great polls - we have lost ballot initiatives. Our opposition is organized and well-funded. But we have what they don’t - we’re fighting for love, not against it," the organization said.

Every day there will be another way to stand for marriage equality. There is the possibility of signing up for updates with the FOUR and new ways to fight for marriage equality every day between now and the election.

 

Lady Gaga releases video supporting state ballot measures
 The Four adds:

With enough of us talking about marriage, sharing, tweeting and donating - we can drive people out to vote on November 6 and deliver marriage equality in 3 states while fighting off a total ban in another.

We can make history by winning marriage equality ballot initiatives in Maine, Maryland and Washington State. In Minnesota the fight is a different one - we’ll be stopping a total ban on same-sex marriage.

(New York Times Editorial: Marriage on the Ballot)
A Presidential Stance

The presidential politics have also weighed in on this matter. Barack Obama made history to be the first sitting president to support marriage equality. The Obama campaign endorsed Washington and Maryland referenda and a Maine initiative to do so last week. The campaign also announced its opposition to a constitutional amendment in Minnesota.

Political observers note that these statements were an important indication of the national trends for and perceptions of equal rights in America. The Obama campaign's confidence in Obama's support for gay rights will not hurt him politically shows a massive shift from just four years ago. It is no longer a politically toxic issue for Obama because the public opinion has shifted so drastically.

(Obama declares support for gay marriage)

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, opposes marriage equality, and has reiterated the campaign's support for a federal constitutional amendment banning states from granting same-sex couples equal marriage rights.

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