The lights have gone out on yet another U.S. Presidential election, and Barack Obama has joined the ranks of the two-term presidents. Arguably his legacy was secured almost before he’d even taken up his job in 2009, but now he’s being given the chance to properly finish the social and political changes he’s set in motion, without fear of losing political support.
If this election taught us one thing, it’s that America’s voting is as divisively split as ever. The well-trawled map where each state is deep blue or blood red demonstrates how polarised the U.S. people remain when it comes to politics – particularly on issues like gay marriage which has come to the fore in this election as ever.
President Obama has admitted taking time to make up his mind about gay marriage, and cites a poignant conversation with his daughters about the gay parents of their classmates as the moment he started to refine his position. A late convert? Perhaps. But his honesty reflects many average Americans who are now beginning to see a realistic social necessity that has to exist in spite of religious traditions. Obama looked stronger going into the 2012 election in support of gay marriage, especially considering his fiercely conservative opponent Mitt Romney was so against it.
In a country where people have such opposing views, it takes a president who is universally accepting to lead them. Unfortunately for Romney – and for other republicans of his stock – they preach exclusion on the issue of gay marriage, and would attempt to impose their views on the people heading the other side of the argument. Obama’s liberal stance may allow for things the conservatives disapprove of, but they’re certainly not being forced to take part.
As a result of the election on Tuesday, three states votes to legalise gay marriage: Maine, Washington state and Maryland. Gay marriage has been made legal by legislators or courts in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and the District of Columbia, but this is the first occasion of citizen voting bringing it into legal existence.
No surprises, Maine, Washington and Maryland are all Democratic states. One thing you can be sure of is that such victories are not a case of opening up the floodgates for federal recognition on the national scale. Gay marriage is constitutionally banned in 31 states, and even in the event of some of those being overturned or rewritten, the loyal republican states largely comprising the south and mid-west of America, would likely reject such motions vehemently. It remains a source of bewilderment to much of the rest of the western world – particularly in the UK, where we are now developing a much more liberal, post-religious outlook on social issues – that the United States does not progress similarly across its internal borders. On the same day the French cabinet made advances in plans for a gay marriage bill despite conservative opposition, gay marriage in Spain was upheld after a constitutional appeal. Tides are turning around the world, but the American States we call United are still horribly divided on this issue.
Yet it is no coincidence that the man in the Oval Office reflects such division and reunifications. The colour of the president’s skin is not superficially symbolic. As a man, he is a living reminder of possibility and hope. Of the unthinkable changes America went through in its relationship with racial prejudice, particularly in those states opposing gay marriage as strongly now, as they did for abolishing slavery at the time of the civil war. This gives hope that one day, in a modern, more civilised fashion, the same social transformations could happen for LGBT rights, and normalisation can begin.
This article originally appeared in SoSoGay magazine.