Don’t Despair! Humanist Values Prevailed in Several State Ballot Initiatives

For months I’ve been anxious to see Loving, a new film featuring the true story of Mildred and Richard Loving, the plaintiffs in the groundbreaking Supreme Court case that overturned laws prohibiting interracial marriage. As part of an interracial marriage myself, I watched the trailer and could not help but feel the tears begin to well up when Mildred, when asked if she thinks they will lose the case, says with a smile, “We may lose the small battles, but win the big war.”

Many humanists and others committed to the values of compassion and equality lost one of those battles when the presidential election results were announced yesterday. Regardless of what you may have thought about Hillary Clinton or any of the third-party candidates, I believe that a Donald J. Trump presidency, based on what he has said and done throughout his campaign, will be antithetical to our values.

Nevertheless, I recalled an old Humanist cover from 2010 that read, “Don’t Despair! We’re Not a Broken People.” The lead article addressed, rather ominously, much of the negative sentiment many Americans have been feeling—and seemed to be voting against yesterday—such as corruption, corporate media, and a general lack of belief that things aren’t really going to get any better. It’s the same defeatist attitude that filled my Facebook and Twitter feed from friends and followers when the 2016 presidential winner was announced.

But all is not lost. A number of issues that matter to humanists were up for a vote in state elections across the country, and humanist values prevailed in several ballot initiatives. So, while the nation as a whole may be turning away from reason and compassion, we can rely on millions to use common sense judgement on issues such as:

  • Death With Dignity: Colorado joined five other states (California, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington State) in passing Proposition 106, the “End of Life Options Act,” that legalizes physician-assisted death for patients with a terminal illness.
  • Medical Marijuana: Whether you agree with full legalization of marijuana or not, most humanists believe in decriminalizing marijuana and making medical marijuana available for those who need it. A record-number nine states considered laws making medical or recreational marijuana legal, and all were approved with the exception of Arizona and, at the time of this writing, Maine, which is too close to call.
  • Minimum Wage: While the American Humanist Association rarely takes a position on economic issues, it’s safe to assume that a majority of our members support raising the minimum wage. Citizens in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington State all voted yes to increases, and South Dakota voted no against a referendum that would’ve decreased the minimum wage for minors under the age of 18 from $8.50 to $7.50.
  • But the biggest surprise of all came from Oklahoma, where voters said no to the “Oklahoma Public Money for Religious Purposes” constitutional amendment that would have done exactly what it stated—taking taxpayer dollars and giving it to religious groups to use however they want. writer Luis Granados will be expanding upon further in an article next week, celebrating this major win for church-state separation and a significant loss for the religious right.

As for elected officials who are open about their nontheism and will truly represent the interests of humanists, we celebrated three victories in Arizona, according to a press release from the Freethought Equality Fund PAC: Juan Mendez, an open atheist and previous Arizona State House representative, won his seat as the District 26 State Senator; open atheist Athena Salman won her seat as the District 26 Arizona State Representative; and open humanist Ryan Winkle won his seat on the Mesa City Council. The Freethought Equality Fund PAC endorsed a record-number sixty-one candidates at the federal, state, and local levels who identify as humanists, atheists, agnostics, nonreligious, or as religious allies of the secular community.

Humanists are laying the groundwork for a more secular America, and history has generally shown them to be on the right side of progress. So, please, don’t lose hope. We will win the big war.