2012 was the year that Washington voters made history on the national stage.
This state became the first in the nation to allow same-sex marriages by virtue of voter approval, not through legislative or judicial action. And – for better or worse – voters made Washington one of two states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana (Colorado is the other).
The Nov. 6 approval of Referendum 74 was an important step forward for civil rights and has galvanized proponents of same-sex marriage in other states. Passage affirms that a majority of this state’s voters believe homosexuals should have the same right to marry the one they love as heterosexuals – with all the benefits and responsibilities that go along with that right, at least at the state level.
Same-sex couples still don’t enjoy equal marital rights at the federal level or in states that don’t recognize their unions as legal. It’s possible that might change in 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court takes up two cases related to same-sex marriage. But at least for now, supporters can savor the victory here in Washington and take pride in this important breakthrough for equality.
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While passage of R-74 brought about a degree of certainty for gay couples, the same can’t be said for the effects of voter-approved Initiative 502. Under state law it is now legal to possess small amounts of pot for personal use – but it’s still illegal to sell it, grow it or give it away. And it can’t be brought onto federal property, including federal buildings, national parks and forests, military installations and courthouses.
Even though President Barack Obama says the federal government has “bigger fish to fry” than going after pot smokers, no one’s sure what’s going to happen as the state sets up a system for the production, sale and taxation of marijuana.
Will the state invest in that system only to have the federal government swoop in, arrest growers and sellers and confiscate tax revenue in order to prevent Washington from becoming the Amsterdam of the U.S.? No one knows, and so far the federal authorities aren’t showing their hand.
Action on another social issue that had ramifications for many Washington residents was the lifting of the federal “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military. As with the passage of R-74, it affirmed the right of homosexuals to be true to themselves – and not have to hide their sexual identity while defending their country.
By most accounts, this change has had little to no effect on military readiness. It is already the new normal, as we suspect will soon be the case with same-sex married couples.