Gay Marriage, Marijuana Legalization and Immigration Reform Will Make 2013 a Great Year for Progressives

Several controversial social issues are approaching tipping points, and with the start of a new year and a new term for President Obama, a lot could change for the better. And soon.

Here are three of the biggest issues that could come to a head next year, in no particular order: 

1. Gay Marriage: The Supreme Court announced Friday that they will hear both cases on same-sex marriage: Proposition 8, which has been through an obstacle course of appeals in California, and it’s federal cousin, the Defense of Marriage Act.

There’s a good chance that SCOTUS will rule both unconstitutional, based on the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment — the grounds on which bans on interracial marriage were thrown out. We now look back on these bans as absurd and outdated, and with a SCOTUS decision expected in by June, 2013 is poised to be the start of same-sex marriage bans’ transition to the same category. 

Momentum has been building for same-sex marriage to be officially accepted for a long time. In 2010, 45.9% of people agreed that homosexual couples should have the right to marry, up from only 10.7% in 1988, according to the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. So it looks like arguments against same-sex marriage will go the way of those against interracial marriage.

2. Immigration Reform: President Obama has promised to strongly pursue immigration reform in his second term, starting soon after inauguration.

“While key tactical decisions are still being made, President Obama wants a catch-all bill that would also bolster border security measures,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “Cabinet secretaries are preparing to make the case for how changes in immigration laws could benefit businesses, education, health care and public safety.”

In order to be successful, the kind of wide-reaching reform bill the president will push for will have to be introduced early, before lawmakers start thinking about the next election cycle and become hesitant to take a stand on a controversial bill.

The so-called “Latino vote” is expected to be pivotal in the 2016 presidential election, and both parties have already shown that they’re planning ahead. Days after Mitt Romney lost this year’s election, speculation began that Marco Rubio could revive the Republican Party.

But Hispanic candidate or no, GOP opposition to immigration reform in Congress will make it vividly and consistently clear than any efforts by the party to court the Latino vote would be just that — not genuine concern or understanding.

Because such opposition is likely, even if the president’s attempts at immigration reform don’t succeed they will help Democrats keep the White House next time around by reminding people which party actually cares about the rights of immigrants.

 

3. Marijuana Legalization: After the ballot initiatives in Washington and Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana in those states in November, the federal government is at a crossroads. The President and the Justice Department have to decide whether to enforce federal law against marijuana, taking legal action against the states, or look the other way, signaling an open door to further legalization. 

A record high 58% of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana, according to a new poll from Public Policy Polling. Last year, Gallup reported 50% approval. Support is highest among liberals and young people. It’s important to note that the higher rate among young people is believed to be a generational effect, with more and more people approving over time, rather than a cohort effect, with people in successive generations approving when they’re young and then becoming more conservative with age.

This progression of public opinion is a good indication that the battle for marijuana legalization will be won sooner or later, as the opposition dwindles. It would behoove the president to stay on the winning team on this one.

With so many more pressing issues at hand, including the two listed above and, of course, economic recovery, it’s unlikely that marijuana will be a priority in the next few years. This could mean, with the inaction of the Justice Department, more states will decriminalize or outright legalize marijuana in the coming years.