Leading up to a major election, candidates are often scrutinized for their stance on social issues. This trend usually manifests itself at the highest level. An ad campaign between the incumbent Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney in 2012, for instance, centered around abortion, with both sides attacking each other’s views on the issue.
The reality, of course, is that Obama has had done essentially nothing in terms of abortion during his most recent term, and other women’s health issues like the birth control and contraceptives being guaranteed under Affordable Care Act health plans have been battled in the courts. This has nothing to do with Obama’s personal attitude towards abortion, and everything to do with the democratic structure of the country and the way laws affecting social issues are formed within that framework. He hasn't done much because, really, he can't.
The long, slow process of American democracy has been demonstrated most recently with a string of victories for same-sex marriage supporters. Gay marriage was legalized in Virginia, Utah, Nevada, Indiana and Wisconsin this week after recent rulings. The Supreme Court has, however, put a temporary hold on in Nevada and Idaho, due to a challenge of the strike down on gay marriages in the state. No matter what happens in those two states, it’s obvious that gay marriage is becoming increasingly accepted and common across the country.
Despite the seeming inevitability of legalized gay marriage, midterm candidates are still leveraging the social issue in their campaigns. The most notable supporter has been Republican Senate candidate Monica Wehby, who declared in a TV ad her support for abortion rights and gay marriage. Wehby joins a growing group of Republican candidates voicing their support for gay marriage, realizing that sexual orientation should have little to do with political outlook.
Candidates theoretically will have an influence over social policy once elected, but campaigning in support of certain social issues seems to be a political move more than anything. A recent New York Times article explains how Democrats have been using cultural issues to gain support amongst moderate voters — a tactic previously dominated by the right. The linking of Christianity with the GOP is a notorious example of this phenomenon, but a trend that slowly appears to be changing.
Social issues can be governed, but in a truly democratic society the people will ultimately decide what’s best for them. The United States doesn’t quite have the luxury of allowing itself to be completely democratic, but even the imperfect way the country governs itself allows for a more free way of letting social laws write themselves. At this point in time, the national legalization of gay marriage and marijuana both seem inevitable. Too many states have enacted laws in support of those issues, with little push back from the federal government or judicial branch. Gun control and abortion are further from being resolved (or from moving away from the political discussion, as gay marriage and marijuana hopefully will), but that’s primarily because the nation is split on the issues.