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The Republican Party performed well enough in yesterday’s 2014 midterm elections to take control of the United States Senate, giving Republicans control of both chambers of Congress next year.
Yet, as important as this shift is — it certainly could create challenges to passing any meaningful federal legislation in the next two years — it is not the complete story on yesterday’s elections. In fact, you might be heartened to learn of some lesser-known results. To help fill you in, here’s a brief summary of noteworthy results for the secular, skeptic, and humanist communities.
Win: Hawaii voters defeated an amendment to the state constitution (Amendment 4) that would have diverted public funds to religious pre-K schools. The vote was 55% to 45%. On an historical note, this makes 28 referenda between 1966 and 2014 in which voters have rejected the diversion of public funds to religious and private schools.
Loss: In what strikes me as the most depressing result of yesterday’s shift in Congress, the brazenly anti-science and conspiracy minded Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who proudly believes climate change is a “hoax,” is set to take over Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works.
Wins: In Florida, Louisiana, California, Rhode Island, Maine, and New Jersey, voters adopted measures designed to protect the environment, from amendments to bond measures that will increase land and water conservation.
Win: Oregon voters approved an amendment to the state constitution (Measure 89) stating that, “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the State of Oregon or by any political subdivision in this state on account of sex.”
Win: Voters in Dallas, Texas, approved an amendment to the City Charter (Proposition 4), that added color, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, genetic characteristics, national original, disability, and military or veteran status to the list of classes protected against discrimination in city employment. Previously, the City Charter prohibited discrimination against city employees based only on race, sex, and political or religious opinions or affiliations.
Wins: Voters in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C. legalized marijuana, albeit to different extents. While the initiatives in Alaska and Oregon will allow recreational sale and consumption, Washington, D.C.’s measure isn’t as expansive, and simply allows adults 21 and over to legally possess two ounces and six plants. Not only does marijuana legalization make sense from an ethical and scientific perspective – it will also help address racial inequalities in the criminal justice system.
Win: California voters made theirs the first state (Proposition 47) to de-felonize nearly all drug possession with the intent of personal use, by voting to reduce six classifications of nonviolent drug and theft-related crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. Again, this is a win not just for individual liberty, but for criminal justice reform.
Loss: Florida voters rejected an amendment to the state constitution (Amendment 2) that would have permitted the use of medical marijuana. The measure failed has failed because while it received ~58%, constitutional amendments in the state are required to reach 60 percent approval.
Loss: Alabama voters approved, 72% to 28%, an amendment to the state constitution (Amendment 1), which bars courts from applying “any law, rule or legal code system used outside of the United States or by any other people, group or culture different from the people of the United States or the State of Alabama.” The amendment was criticized by many in the legal community, and even the Christian Coalition, as unnecessary, costly, and wrong.
Win: For the third time, Colorado voters rejected an amendment to the state constitution (Amendment 67) — this time by a nearly two-to-one margin — which would have defined a fertilized egg as a legal “person” starting at fertilization.
Win: North Dakota voters, 64% to 36%, rejected an amendment to the state constitution (Measure 1) that stated, “The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.'”
Win: Illinois voters approved, 66% to 34%, a non-binding advisory question that asked whether health insurance plans should be required to provide coverage for prescription birth control.
Loss: Tennessee voters, 53% to 47%, approved an amendment to the state constitution (Amendment 1) that will allow the state legislature to enact, amend or repeal state laws regarding abortion, including for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to protect the mother’s life.
For further coverage of election issues related to science and secularism, see Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Religion News Service.