Today, Colorado is one of the first states where voters legalized recreational marijuana and a newly installed Democratic legislature approved civil unions. Polls show a majority of Coloradans approve both. What happened in a decade?
Colorado voters and opinion in the country shifted during the decade on legalizing gay relationships and the use of marijuana and, most importantly, new faces came into the electorate.
Volumes are being written concerning the extraordinary shift in opinion on gay rights, including the effectiveness of repositioning what was considered a mental or moral defect or, at best, a bizarre lifestyle choice into a civil right. Keep in mind, Colorado’s ban on gay marriage and defeat of civil unions in 2006 wasn’t unique. In 2004, banning gay marriage was a national movement and, by most accounts, contributed to the re-election of President Bush.
But even at that point, a powerful countermovement was taking hold, led by advocates, like Tom Gill and his gay rights foundation, and political contributions here and around the country, powered by frequent and sympathetic treatments in film, television and books, and advanced by gays’ personal affirmations; i.e., coming out.
Peoples’ opinions shift due to personal experiences and relationships. Today, almost everyone knows someone who is gay – a friend, relative or coworker – or sees them perform often at the top of their art, profession and increasingly their sport. National polls show gay marriage now has majority support.
Marijuana legalization has not had the same level of attention from activists or media, but it has effectively used medical marijuana as a platform to argue the drug is not dangerous and it’s no worse than alcohol and should be treated the same.
The other significant factor creating political change in Colorado since the early 2000s has been the surge of new voters in the electorate, which has moved the state to the left. More than 422,000 voters have joined the roles since President Bush won re-election with 100,000 votes in 2004 and President Obama did so with 138,000 votes in 2012 – many of those new voters helped gay rights and marijuana use reach majority acceptance.