Most Americans now support legally allowing gay and lesbian relationships, same-sex marriage, and personal marijuana use after decades of shifting public opinion. But one Democratic candidate for president, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, was calling for many of these changes decades ago.
In a 1972 letter to a local newspaper — which was recently resurfaced by Chelsea Summers at the New Republic — Sanders wrote that he supported abolishing "all laws dealing with abortion, drugs, sexual behavior (adultery, homosexuality, etc.)" as part of his campaign for Vermont governor:
These stances were far removed from public opinion at the time, according to Gallup surveys on marijuana and gay and lesbian rights. In 1972, 81 percent of Americans said marijuana should be illegal — which suggests even more would favor the prohibition of more dangerous drugs like cocaine and heroin. In 1977, the earliest year of polling data, 43 percent of Americans said gay and lesbian relations between consenting adults should not be legal, while 43 percent said they should be legal.
That's starkly changed, according to the same Gallup data. In 2014, 51 percent said marijuana should be legal. In 2015, 69 percent said gay and lesbian relationships between consenting adults should be legal, and 60 percent backed marriage equality.
But it took decades for the American public to come around to majority support on these issues: It wasn't until 2013 that a majority of Americans supported marijuana legalization, the early 2000s that most consistently responded in favor of legal gay and lesbian relations, and 2011 that a majority first reported backing same-sex marriage rights.
Sanders has carried many of these positions to this day. He was one of the few federal lawmakers to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal ban on same-sex marriages, in the 1990s. And while he told Time's Jay Newton-Small in March that he has no current stance on marijuana legalization (but backs medical marijuana), he characterized the war on drugs as costly and destructive.
But going back to at least his long-shot bid for governor in the 1970s, Sanders held extremely libertarian — some would say progressive — views for his time. This shows just how liberal the senator has been for much of his public life — and perhaps how ahead he was on some of these issues.