In a little more than a week, the highest court of the land in one of the freest countries of the world will hear oral arguments about whether or not its citizens should have the freedom to marry who they love.
Days before that — today, actually, citizens of said free country will also celebrate another freedom — the freedom to smoke marijuana legally. In four states of our “free” country (and the District of Columbia), this celebration known as 4/20 will be legal. In 46 states, it won’t be.
While most of my public service work centers on improving our schools and fixing our broken immigration system, I also strongly stand for personal freedom. In recent years, the two issues comprising our platform plank of “marriage-juana” have seen amazing progress.
I would not presume — nor, I suspect, would readers of The Advocate — to compare the impact of efforts to reform our drug policy with the movement to secure full equality under the law for LGBT individuals.
For instance, whereas I fully support the right of voters of each state (and even counties) to decide their own drug laws — which is the approach taken by our federal Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act — nobody serious about LGBT equality believes a person's right to work, live, and raise a family free from discrimination should depend on their zip code.
But there are also similarities between these two movements that are hard to ignore. First, they are arguably the two most successful social policy movements occurring in the United States right now. Second, both movements draw much of their power from millennials who are willing to question the norms they or their parents were brought up with in favor of fairness and reason. And finally, at the heart of each of these movements is the concept of personal freedom, and more specifically, the freedom to live your life unencumbered by government interference. While the LGBT rights movement is even more critical for moral justice than simply allowing states to regulate their own drug policy, both movements pay homage to the principle our country was founded upon — freedom and justice for all.
Many Americans, myself included, have long recognized that these battles over marriage and marijuana are dying ones. Those lawmakers, political pundits, and cable news talking heads, who would prefer to stand in the way of progress to protect the status quo, don’t deserve to be running our country and won’t be in positions of power for long.
But unfortunately, far too many of them still are. Far too many of our elected officials are chained to an ideology that is rooted in the past. They are keepers of normalcy who embrace things as they’ve always been. These guardians of convention are far more comfortable with the antiquated policies of a pre-Internet, pre-Twitter and pre-Spotify era than they are with making change and disrupting conventional thought.
While this may be commonplace in the political world, it doesn't work in the business world, as I've experienced first-hand from starting and building several companies. In the business world, if you're not looking ahead, you're missing something.
We must work to change this Washington ethos. What we need is bold, decisive action and outside-the-box, forward-thinking solutions. We dream of the day when government stops worrying about what happens in people’s bedrooms and backyards and starts worrying more about how we can ensure that every kid has access to a quality education, how we can help entrepreneurs and small businesses not only succeed but thrive in a global economy, and how we can provide good-paying jobs and a secure retirement to some of our most vulnerable members.
We won't get there by perpetuating the same stale policies of yesteryear. We need innovation and creativity.
Issues like LGBT rights and marijuana serve as illustrative litmus tests that separate those on the right side of history from those that aren’t. In 30 years, I’m confident that my children won’t live in a society that decides for them whom they can and cannot marry, or that sits idly by while unchecked discrimination leaves gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans much more likely to become trapped in cycles of poverty and violence. And I’m hopeful that we will also have moved on from a federal drug policy that imprisons black men at a rate that is 10 times faster than their white counterparts, and often takes drug abusers and turns them into hardened criminals rather than getting them the treatment they need.
Every generation of Americans has faced a struggle over our founding principles — taxation, civil rights, worker rights, war — and emerged stronger for it. Our generation is no different. These are our battles. But the future belongs to us.
REP. JARED POLIS is a Congressman from Colorado's 2nd District, and the first out gay father in U.S. Congress. He also serves on the Education and Workforce, Rules, and Natural Resources Committees.