Election 2012, and the Victory of Secular Values

A few observations from Tuesday’s election:

1: Same-sex marriage won in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington. In Minnesota, a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was overturned; in Maine and Maryland and Washington, same-sex marriage has been flat-out approved. This is the first time in United States history that same-sex marriage has been approved by popular vote: in the past, same-sex marriage has always won either through the legislature or the courts.

2: The first openly gay United States Senator, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, has been elected.

3: Marijuana was legalized in Colorado and Washington. And medical marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts.

4: Open misogyny, rape apology, and hatred of female sexuality got trounced, as Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin, Richard “Rape Is Something That God Intended To Happen” Mourdock, Allen “We Are Not Going To Have Our Men Become Subservient” West, and Joe “Abortion Is Never Necessary to Save the Mother’s Life” Walsh… all got beat.

5: Taxpayer support for churches lost in Florida. And it lost by a big-ass margin.

6: The Republican strategy of trying to win elections by demonizing birth control, i.e. people who have sex for pleasure, went down in flames.

What does this tell me?

There are lots of conclusions to be drawn from this election: from the value of getting young people energized about politics, to the increasing racial diversity of this country and the increasing stupidity of race-baiting as a political strategy, to the fact that women, you know, vote, to the simple importance of getting the vote out. But there’s one conclusion that jumped out at me like a kangaroo last night:

In this election, secular values won big-time.

In this election — as in so many elections in the recent past — the Republican Party tried to win, in large part, through religious fear-mongering about gays and drugs and sex and abortion and women who don’t know their place. And in this election, the religious fear-mongering suffered a catastrophic fail. It wasn’t a complete victory for secular values everywhere — it’s not like the religious right lost every single election across the country — but the trend across the country showed an overwhelming rejection of the religious right.

I’m not going to credit this to the atheist movement. I don’t think atheists are an effective voting bloc — not yet. But we sure as heck could be. I think in a few years, we will be. And more to the point: The political values that are most common among atheists — support for LGBT rights and same-sex marriage, support for birth control and abortion, support for evidence-based drug policy, opposition to religion being intertwined with government, opposition to laws about sex being based on religion, opposition to laws in general being based on religion — are, increasingly, American values. This election was, to a great extent, a referendum on secular values versus the values of the theocratic religious right — and secular values won.

Atheists are not in opposition to American values. Atheists are on the cutting edge of them.

Election 2012, and the Victory of Secular Values

37 thoughts on “Election 2012, and the Victory of Secular Values

  1. 1

    You know, I was listening to (anti-)American (anti-)Family Radio this morning, and the financial guy was saying the same thing. They didn’t lose on these issues because Obama and the Democrats cheated, but because the American people voted their values, and their values are out of sync with the radical right-wing agenda. The majority of Americans just don’t buy what they’re selling.

    They are so demoralized that they’re actually letting the truth slip out occasionally. It won’t last through the week, but right now it is interesting.

  2. 2

    More and more, the American people are getting tired of the Religious Right. For instance, the dispute about contraception was settled in the 1960s with contraception becoming socially acceptable, even among Catholics and fundamentalist Christians. So when the Religious Right and the Catholic bishops tried to make contraception controversial, nobody was interested. Witness the backlash Rush Limbaugh received when he scorned Sandra Fluke as a “slut” for wanting insurance cover contraception.

  3. 5

    Clarification on Minnesota: We voted NO! on a proposed constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman. There is still a law on the books banning same-sex marriage that needs to be repealed, but we became the first state in the union to defeat a constitutional amendment. With Democrats retaking both the state House and Senate in MN (apparently we got pissed off at the Republican legislators who put the amendment on the ballot), and a Democratic governor we may soon join the growing list of civilized states that embrace marriage equality. Unfortunately, we still have Michelle Bachmann in her just over 50% crazy district, but her margins of victory have decreased every election cycle and if the trend holds she’ll be gone in 2 years.

  4. 7

    I agree wholeheartedly with this– as far as it goes. I’m especially excited to see real progressives like Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren win election to the Senate. That body needs a moralist in the tradition of Paul Wellstone.

    I’m delighted that we won’t take steps now to screw over the poor to the extent that Romney/Ryan would have. But we shouldn’t think this is a victory for progressive politics until we elect a government that takes income inequality seriously. It will be interesting to see what Obama does, now that he owes Wall Street nothing for his election. I hope he pays more attention to the plight of the poor than he did before. In my mind, there’s very little point of a Democratic party that doesn’t embrace economic justice.

  5. 9

    I also am glad to see you back and agree wholeheartedly with what you wrote. We’re making progress, however painfully slow it might be. It will speed up.

    We just have to keep slugging away and getting the message out. Our enemies want us to just shut up, but we’re not going to do anything of the kind. In six days time, I’ve written 8 blogs of my own and am really fired up.

    To the theist opposition: We have not yet begun to write, speak, demonstrate, you name it! We will give you no rest or respite!

    The demographics are changing. The angry old white men are dying off. Every time we go to an estate sale, I like to imagine the deceased was an hateful old Republican tea partier. The spirit of freedom and independence burns in the breasts of more and more young Americans. We can’t get most of the ossified old foggies, but the thinking young are another matter.

  6. 10

    You know what I love? I was watching Obama’s acceptance speech, and about 3:25 into the speech, he says “and we rise as one nation” (and I flinch), and he finishes… “and as one people.” Hooray for Obama not stuffing religion in my face!

  7. 12

    I am most happy with the reelection of Obama, since that means several national progressive advances will likely stand, and that the Supreme Court may regain it’s sanity.

    The next most exciting election victory is Elizabeth Warren. I am curious what she will be able to do. Which committees she’ll be able to serve on, and how much of a voice she’ll have.

    All in all a pretty good cycle!

  8. 13


    David Simon (The Wire & Treme) penned a pretty good essay on the changing face of the electorate. And how the increased diversity of the electorate will create a selective pressure on the GOP to (gasp)…evolve. Or become increasingly irrelevant. As he notes, being white and male ain’t what it used to be. Thank the FSM. Still a long ways to go. I’d love to see more open acknowledgement of atheism, more openly atheist lawmakers etc., but as Greta correctly notes, the secular ideals are moving forward slowly but surely. And not even slowly in some cases. After all the anti-gay victories in 2004 only 8 years later we have states approving same-sex marriage, an openly gay woman in office, the end of DADT, the dropping of the defense of DOMA by the attorney general, and most importantly an overall change in the attitude of Americans on these issues as kids grow up seeing nothing abnormal about homosexuality. As Erik Loomis at Lawyers. Guns & Money notes (Loomis writes frequently about labor, environmentalism, and political organization), these sea changes are not just inevitable results of the changing face of the US, but the result of years of hard work at local levels:

    Importantly for progressives needing to learn some lessons about how change takes place in this country, many of these ballot measures show that grassroots organizing works. The gay rights movement and marijuana legalization are social movements creating unstoppable forces for change on the grassroots. They are organizing on the ground and then demanding and successfully creating social change. This is how you do it.

    It’s a valuable lesson for Atheism+ and people concerned with promoting secular ideals.

    PS we should all be happy that the guy who mentioned praying, umpteen times in his speech on Tues, was the LOSER!!

  9. 14

    Glad to see you back and writing with the same insight and lucidity. It appears you’re well on the mend.

    The war for marriage equality is over. There may be a few more pockets of resistance to wipe out, but It. Is. Over. The hearts and minds have been won. We can’t slack off and go home expecting to find a pony in the back yard, but the country has taken a giant step into the 21st century.

  10. 17

    I’m pretty content with the results, overall. We’ve averted a disaster in the form of Romney, marriage equality gains ground, and some rape apologists get kicked out of office.

    We’ve still got other crap to deal with, but we can take a quick breather.

  11. 19

    The religious right is still busy tying its own noose.

    Some years back they noticed the trend — young people leaving their churches. The secular movement growing and becoming more accepted among the GP.

    Their response was to become more authoritarian, more dogmatic, increase the fear and guilt, more bigoted, more divisive, more irrational and superstitious, and all around more hateful.

    They increased everything that drove young people away in the first place. I have read numerous accounts from those who left strict Christian churches/cults. It appears to me that many of those people would have been willing to stick with their faith if the leadership of those churches would have been a little more flexible, accepting, and reasonable.

    The doctrine-over-person mentality can only go so far before it collapses on itself.

  12. 21

    As a Washingtonian I would like to point out that there is more to our great state than gay marriage and legal pot. We also have legal gambling just about everywhere outside the Seattle city limits and you can now buy hard liquor in our grocery stores. Plus IIRC we are just about number last in church attendance. Who needs Vegas? And … oh yeah we also got mountains and beaches and shit. Anyway that’s enough bragging for one night.

  13. 22

    @ #7 Martha

    Alas, Wall Street still has ways to bribe Obama, just as they have before (Goldman Sachs was Obama’s #1 contributor in 2008). After all, they managed to bribe Clinton in his second term so that he would sign the law which prevented the regulation of financial derivatives:


    While I applaud the success of secular values in this election when it comes to marriage equality, marijuana legalization, and throwing out racist/misogynist/homophobic/ legislators, I cannot be happy when the ‘less evil candidate’ has authorized the assasination of a U.S. citizen without a trial and maintains a secret ‘kill list’ of future targets (not to mention that, in four whole years, he hasn’t prosecuted a single wrongdoer on Wall Street).

  14. 23

    This time the mainstream Christians were voting against right-wingers who (rightly or wrongly) were identified as being in favour of putting people in concentration camps, and withholding healthcare from the very poor.

    If the right-wingers go back to demands for “ten commandments in every court room” and “prayers in every classroom” they will win in a landslide. America is not safe yet.

  15. 24

    While openly atheist politicians will mean something changed, I dream of a day in public affairs, where like in biology today, religion is just not spoken of – unless you wanna shoot both your feet clean off by saying you’ve got one.

  16. 25

    Greta, great post. I just finished WAYASA, and it’s terrific! Super to have such a howitzer on one’s hip when encountering Onward Christian Soldiers. Thanks for the book.

  17. 27

    Don’t forget local Washington State 1st Congressional District candidate John “The Rape Thing” Koster who lost out to Suzan DelBene.

    From the Seattle Times:

    “Incest is so rare, I mean it’s so rare. But the rape thing, you know, I know a woman who was raped and kept the child, gave it up for adoption and doesn’t regret it. In fact, she’s a big pro-life proponent. But, on the rape thing it’s like, how does putting more violence onto a woman’s body and taking the life of an innocent child that’s a consequence of this crime, how does that make it better?” link

    I hope this guy never has appendectomy, kidney stone removal, or colonoscopy, because each of those “puts more violence” on the body that a D&C or chemical abortion.

  18. 29

    As someone who watched the civil rights progress in the ’60s, and applied for my first job when the newspaper listed help wanted male or female, I know that evolution is a slow process. I am delighted with the results of last Tuesday, and the knowledge that every generation is less religious than the last.

  19. 31

    read your book, “why are you atheist’s so angry”. and liked it very much. First time comment, so I hope I’m doing it right.

    While I am also gratified by the Presidential election outcome, I always wonder if people read too much into each election cycle. You state: “This election was, to a great extent, a referendum on secular values versus the values of the theocratic religious right — and secular values won.”

    I disagree to an extent. At the Presidential level it was an election between a sitting President and a weak opponent. And the President got about 53% of the vote. So quite a few voted the other way. The electoral college magnifies things. Not sure secularism played into it nearly as much as economics, war, etc. Just as President Bush’s two terms were not the end of the Democratic party as was so widely viewed, this election may not be the end of the right wing of the Republican party.

    As to the other issues, yes, relatively liberal states voted for some things many secularists support. Not sure their vote had anything to due with secularism. Some religious people support same sex marriage.

    Is Marijuana legalization a secular issue? I am a physician. I am not sure the science on legalization is clear. Certainly, the charade of medical marijuana is an embarrassment to the cause. A tiny percentage of “medical” users are appropriate. Most are “users” who hide beyond the law. True supporters of legalization oughtn’t to conflate the issues of legalization per se and medicinal use. The true medical uses of marijuana are very rare, probably truly boils down to some chemo users and they can be treated with pill form, not smoked oftentimes.

    If we legalize pot, more will use it. This is clear. Is this a good thing? Is it in the interest of public health? The two most harmful drugs, at the societal level, by far are the legal ones, tobacco and alcohol. If pot should be legal, why not other drugs? Certainly the law will never be logical, as outlawing all didn’t work, but is the answer to legalize? Maybe. Maybe not. Not sure why this is part of secular values however.

    Finally, someone’s post speaks of “income equalization”. What does this mean? Adjustment of tax policy or socialism? Is either a secular value? If I understand secularism correctly, one can debate how best to help the poor, that is do leftward policies work? The evidence is not clear. Certainly, it ‘feels good’ to give welfare, but does it work? And by what yardstick do we judge something to be ‘right’ without a god. (I am an agnostic, as I think this is the only evidence based answer. “I don’t know”, as we cannot know what we don’t know, e.g. we cannot prove the absence…..). So even if we agree that it is a valid humanistic value to aid the poor, I don’t think either leftward or rightward solutions (there are right sided economic arguments on how to help the poor) can claim sole possession of correctness. Leftward policies often invoke Christian (or other) religious values to support them. But from a factual basis, maybe the best solution is economic growth, not welfare.

    Sorry so long.


  20. 32

    @ allencdexter – The old white men are not dying off and if they were, it’s not something to be gleeful about. The population is becoming less white as a percentage of the population and the divisive politics of the TeaParty and Republicans is failing. Half of that is demographic shift. The otherhalf is, I suspect, the internet and social media bypassing the rich old white men’s strangle hold on the mainstream media. This is all good and doesn’t need wishing ill to burnish it (as if wishing ill polishes anything).

    The problem with your expression is that (to old white males) it looks like you’re being tribal and that as soon as you have power you will use it for retribution. When that’s the framing, the old white males become afraid and behave badly (cf Bill O’Reily 1 day after the election). I’ve gone on too long already but consider the framing of “POC and other folks are finally getting political power commensurate with their populations”. This provides some reassurance to the old white males that they will at least get a proportional share and it’s less scary. Is this reframing fair? not really since old white males were more than happy to use their power disproportionately for a long while. That’s not the point, however. The point is to move forward as quickly as possible without excessive conflict.

    @normanbarrett wiik
    You way beat me to the quiet bonus we got in MN. The gain of the State House was not expected and even if they don’t pass affirmative languare for full marriage equality, I can see the full Dem. control being used to plain delete MN Stat. 517.03(a)(4) – PROHIBITED MARRIAGES {The following marriages are prohibited:…a marriage between persons of the same sex.}. That would then take gay marriage off the prohibited list and, in theory, allow marriage licenses to go out to GLBT couples.

  21. 33

    If I understand secularism correctly, one can debate how best to help the poor, that is do leftward policies work? The evidence is not clear. – bill rifkin

    Actually, yes it is, extremely clear. Experience over the past half-century in several Scandinavian countries shows that a comprehensive welfare state can effectively eliminate severe poverty. Abundant evidence shows that income inequality correlates positively with multiple social pathologies when comparing both rich countries, and US states. See here. It also appears to correlate with religiosity.

  22. 34

    Further to #33. If we regard respect for empirical evidence as a secular value, then it’s abundantly clear that the defeat of a party dominated by creationists, anthropogenic climate change deniers, and those who refer to a zygote as a “baby” was indeed a victory for secular values.

  23. 36

    First time to your blog, and I’m looking forward to reading more. I just have one thing to toss out there: I’m a Christian (Episcopalian), and I support all of the secular values you mention. Especially the one about laws not being intertwined with religion.

  24. 37

    I’m a Christian (Episcopalian), and I support all of the secular values you mention.

    Well, there’s a reason those values are called “secular” rather than “atheistic”.

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