One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: When The Law Backtracks

Photo courtesy of atomicjeep via Flickr

In theory, governments worldwide should aim to progress in ways that benefit the people, the nation, and the world. But sometimes, laws that may be considered progressive either turn out to be detrimental, unfavorable, or misleading.

Here are six cases in which the law has taken a small or sometimes huge step backwards in time, due to second thoughts on progressive laws or regressive legislation.

California’s Proposition 8

In California, a ban on gay marriage was struck down in 2008. However, this step toward marriage equality was retracted for a time by the implementation of Proposition 8, which amended the state’s constitutional definition of marriage to supercede the 2008 ruling.

Though Proposition 8 was itself declared unconstitutional in 2010, the amendment is an example of how legality can be granted, then reversed by politicians.

Carbon Tax in Australia

Australia, one of the world’s largest per-capita CO2 emitters, repealed a law introduced in 2012 that put a tax on carbon in hopes of slashing emissions. But in 2014, Australia’s Senate voted 39-32 to repeal it.

The repeal comes with newest Prime Minister Toby Abbot’s goal to prioritize economic growth over climate policy.  This makes Australia the first developed nation to repeal a functional carbon pricing mechanism.

Weed Laws in the Netherlands

The Netherlands, and Amsterdam specifically, has long been considered a safe zone for activities that are illicit elsewhere, like drugs and prostitution.

As the U.S. moves forward on the legalization of marijuana, however, the Netherlands has stumbled a bit backwards. In 2012, it briefly introduced a policy that required smokers to acquire a “weed pass” in a move to prevent foreigners from entering cannabis cafes.

Though the plan was killed, cities are allowed the option to still enforce it, which has in cities like Maastricht curbed weed tourism and given rise to street dealers.

The 1989 Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act

Many people gripe about Obamacare, and Pew Research shows that in May 2014 only 41 percent of Americans approved of it, while 55 percent disapprove and 64,655 people have signed a petition to repeal it.

Could it be repealed? Well, similar things have happened. In 1989, Ronald Reagan passed the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act, which aimed to protect older Americans from bankruptcy over medical bills, but instead was overwhelmingly despised and subsequently repealed. Catastrophic, indeed.

The Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda

Though homosexuality is thought to have been practiced without condemnation before European colonialism, the influence of British colonists has caused African culture to deeply demonize it as un-Christian.

Ugandan law has criminalized homosexual acts dating back to British rule in the 19th century. But instead of this law growing more lax with time, a new act was introduced in 2009 to broaden criminalization, and passed in 2013 to enforce life in prison as a punishment for offenders.

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

More recently, the news world was rocked by the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (pdf) case, in which the Supreme Court ruled that closely held corporations have the right to deny employees certain birth control under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Made possible under the Affordable Care Act, granting a corporation religious rights above the personal health decisions of individual employees is regarded by many as a step backward for women’s health care, and could allow for other legal exemptions based on religion.

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Jennifer Markert