On Monday, President Barack Obama submitted an article to The Huffington Post imploring Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a measure that would protect members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination in the workplace. This past week, Senate Democrats have been rallying for Senate Republicans to support the bill rather than filibuster.
The American people are familiar with this congressional tactic of delays and interruptions, and the president has grown tired of Congress’ inability to legislate in a civilized manner. But the gridlock in Washington, D.C. hasn’t left the country entirely helpless — thanks to federalism, the states have been able to take matters into their own hands.
State governments have always practiced their sovereignty by passing laws leaning toward the public opinion within their smaller demographic of constituents. Now though, the most divisive issues in the nation are those Congress has not determined — gun control, gay marriage, immigration and abortion. States have been forced to pass their own legislation, and huge disparities in public opinion from New Jersey to Oklahoma to California have contributed to the political divide between red and blue states.
California passed a slew of firearm control bills in October, making it the state with the strictest gun control legislation in the country. Meanwhile, states like Alaska and Arizona, which allow anyone over the age of 21 to own a gun, show a stark contrast
The number of laws and resolutions related to immigration jumped by 83 percent since 2012 in a total of 43 states, and 34 states have passed voter identification laws, each one varying in stringency. Texas recently passed a controversial abortion law that would effectively shut down one-third of the states’ abortion clinics. Congress’ inaction following the NSA scandal has prompted over 10 states to pass online privacy laws, further restricting government usage of consumer information.
These are the key issues facing the country today and the ones that will dominate midterm and presidential elections to come. Under the 10th Amendment, states are legally permitted to pass laws on all of these far-ranging issues. But are we still indivisible if none of our major policies coincide on a national level? Is it best for the country if, in the same year, one state permits concealed weapons in bars while another proposes banning semi-automatic rifles ?
Many Americans blame money in Washington, D.C. and congressional gridlock for the growing political polarization in the United States. Congress continuously passes laws that widen the gap between residents of one state and another, so it comes as no surprise that there is disunity on a federal level. The deeprooted disagreements between states like California and Arizona on fundamental issues are signs of an inherent problem, which the incompetent members of Congress cannot resolve merely by passing legislation on the federal level.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Nov. 7 print edition. Nina Golshan is a staff columnist. Email her at [email protected]