Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Majority Rules: Gay Marriage, Super-Delegates, and the TRUE meaning of Democracy

So it turns out that a proposition to amend the California Constitution to take away the right to marry for Gays and Lesbians will be on the November 2008 ballot. My rights will come down to a simple majority vote.

This after the California Supreme Court, only two weeks ago, finally struck down the state laws that denied legal marriage to Gay and Lesbian couples (by a 4-3 vote.) We're waiting for June 17 for the ruling to take effect which will let me and my TRUE LOVE of 11 years go get a marriage license, but have been worried about the possibility of the Court issuing a "stay" which would prevent any same sex marriages until after the "will of the people" vote in November.

But a half hour ago, this news item was released:

Calif. Supreme Court Refuses To Delay Gay Marriage Ruling
by The Associated Press

Posted: June 4, 2008 - 12:45 pm ET

(San Francisco, California) California's highest court has refused to stay until after the November election its decision legalizing same-sex marriage in the state.

Conservative religious and legal groups had asked the California Supreme Court to stop its order from becoming effective until voters have the chance to weigh in on the issue.

An initiative that would amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage has qualified for the ballot. Its passage would overrule the court's decision.

The Supreme Court says its ruling will be final at 5 p.m. on June 16.

That's so exciting! I'm going to get legally married!

But, what will happen in November if the "will of the people" decide that I shouldn't have the right to be married, after all?

Barack Obama is leading in popular votes for the Democratic Presidential Nomination (in fact AP just reported yesterday that he's won the nomination, according to their discussions with super delegates...)

But Hilary Clinton has spent much of her time lately hoping the Super Delegates would "appoint" her as the nominee instead, leading to charges of her intending to defy "the will of the people."

Which brings to mind the outrage we all felt when Bush won the presidency due to the electoral college even though Gore had won the popular vote.

It seems, for the moment at least, that the Super-delegates have gone with the majority of voters and selected Barack Obama. But it's not final yet. And it's fascinating that they COULD have chosen differently... (Might they still change their minds?)

It all leads to our needing to take a look at what Democracy truly is. What does OUR Democracy stand for?

Is Democracy purely mob rule, majority rule, winner-take-all, will of the people?

Or is a True Democracy more guided? Does it take care of the minority, even when it's not what the majority would vote to do?

This is exactly why we have a Constitutional Democracy, with legislative, judicial and executive branches of power. The idea being that sometimes, you have to protect minorities from the "tyranny of the majority." (That phrase was used by Alexis de Tocqueville in his "Democracy in America," a hugely successful two part book from 1835 and 1840 that looked at what made our USA brand of democracy work so well.)

Let's apply this idea of Democracy's duty to guard against the tyranny of the majority to a closely related social issue:

Interracial Marriage

It was 1948 when the California Supreme Court finally struck down the laws against interracial marriage. (The U.S. Supreme Court didn't do it until 1967.) But a majority of voters did not approve of interracial marriage until 1991.

Yup, you read that right. 1991 was the first year a majority of Americans approved of interracial marriage.

Check out this mind-blowing chart of the slow progress of tolerance and acceptance of couples of different ethnic backgrounds falling in love. It (and the photo collage of same sex couples above) are from this great site,

Imagine if the right for interracial couples to marry had waited until 1991, when the majority of Americans "approved!" Think of all the families YOU know, who, not allowed to be legally married, would have been truly second class citizens...

And now, just when it seems that here in California our Gay brothers and sisters are finally going to be treated like first class citizens, and granted their right (our right) to marry, we're being told - wait! A majority needs to approve this.

(Did I mention that TWICE the California legislature passed same-sex marriage laws that would have let Gay and Lesbian couples marry (without forcing any religion or clergy to officiate) and our Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed it? Twice!!)

Argh! Double Argh!!

But even when my rights seem to come down to the "will of the people," there is some hope...

A Field Poll, which surveys California voters, on Wednesday May 28, 2008, reported that for the first time, a MAJORITY of California voters are in support of allowing same-sex marriage in California. It was approved by a 51% to 42% margin statewide. We caught up much quicker than interracial marriage did...

It's interesting that when you break it down by age, 68% of 18-29 year olds support same-sex marriage (only 25% of them disapprove), and it's only once you look at voters 65 years and older that there is no longer a majority in favor of same-sex marriage (they oppose it 55% to 36% who approve.)

Which brings up the issue of suffrage (the civil right to vote.) What if Teenagers were allowed to vote? What if every 13-17 year old was allowed to weigh in on this issue? Would that help balance out all those prejudiced 65 and up voters?

If California voters do amend the state constitution to deny a minority rights in November, it would be the exact opposite of the intent of our constitutional democracy.

The "constitutional" part is to defend the minority against the tyranny of the majority. Or, to paraphrase Alexis de Toqueville's warning, to avoid:

The judgement of the wise subordinated to the prejudices of the ignorant.

So, let's hope the TRUE meaning of Democracy shines through in November. It shone through today with the California Supreme Court's decision NOT to delay same sex marriages until November. It will shine through on June 17 when my love and I go pick up our marriage license. And heck, why not have it shine through EVERY day?

We have a great country here. Let's not forget the things that make it great. That made it (in the not so recent past) a beacon of hope and liberty. A place that once again can be an engine for positive change, for green energy and enterprise, for freedom, for peace, and for liberty and justice for all.

That's the TRUE meaning of our Democracy.

And now I need to go plan a wedding... My own!




Anonymous said...

The surge of young voters (i.e., those who demonstrate more tolerance toward same-sex marriage) coming out to register and vote this year has been phenomenal, and I hope to see the trend continue - if not improve - in November. I'd love to see Obama's appeal galvanizing them further to get more of their peers out there when the crucial moment comes.

I've read one response to the Supreme Court ruling in the San Francisco Chronicle being adamant against the constitutional amendment. It was from a long-time Republican voter, who argues that there are more far, far more serious issues plaguing us than what goes on in people's bedrooms. Color me naive, but reading his comment sparked some hope in me regarding the number of conservative voters who actually oppose the initiative.

All the same, we have to keep working hard in educating people about the unnecessary cruelty of this initiative. I have a gay brother-in-law, and I have two very young nephews and one niece, any of whom might pull me aside one day and come out to me. I can't just stand back and do nothing.

On a squealier note, congratulations on your wedding! Eat, drink, have lots of cake, hugs, and love. :)

ReadWriteGo said...

I hope you have a wonderful wedding! The news of the change in California's laws was so heartwarming - I hope that the decision makes it past the majority to stay in effect, but I am very encouraged by the Supreme Courts decision.

Two years ago I sat on a panel discussion about gay marriage and sat between a church leader and the jerk from DOMA. I had no qualifications to be there other than my outrage that conservatives dared to speak for me, and a burning need to voice what a lot of other people felt but weren't comfortable saying out loud. I left feeling discouraged and sad, but very proud of the young woman from the local LGBT resource center who spoke so much more intelligently against every argument posed. I hope that California starts a trend that spreads.