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The Tyranny of the Majority – Should Gay Marriage Even be on the Ballot?

The Tyranny of the Majority – Should Gay Marriage Even be on the Ballot?

A year ago, the voting public of California favored Proposition 8 and banned gay marriage. Last night, Maine’s citizens voted on Question 1 and also chose to keep marriage between one man and one woman. Is it right that gay marriage, and gay rights as a whole, should be put up for public vote, or, like some have suggested, does it go against what real American democracy is all about?

This Year’s Gay Marriage Battle
For a time, Maine looked as though it would be the first state to approve gay marriage at the ballot, but, ultimately, the result did not go in favor of LGBTs with a 53 percent majority voting to take away same-sex marriage rights, making Maine the 31st state to reject gay marriages at the ballot.

But other gay rights legislation did succeed yesterday. Kalamazoo’s gay rights ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender identity in housing and employment won by a clear majority of 65 percent of the vote. The final figure on Washington’s domestic partnership law isn’t in yet, but, at last check, a majority of 51 percent favored the legislation.

Obviously, gay rights can win at the ballot, but, at this moment in time, gay marriage can not. A question has been brought into focus today though, that I know many blog readers at Care2 have been asking for a long time.

Should Gay Rights be Decided by a Majority Vote at All?
Care2′s very own Deepak Chopra, renowned author on subjects of spiritual and physical health, wrote a piece for the Huffington post last year, prior to Prop 8′s eventual win, in which he expressed his dismay at California putting gay marriage on the ballot, calling this kind of behavior “moral hazard”. In the piece, he said (emphasis mine):

“Popular democracy sorely tests the bond of trust. Therefore, we have certain bodies, such as courts and the Senate, where the tide of popular sentiment can be checked. In California, the system of ballot initiatives for changing the state constitution is pure democracy at work, without restraint of any kind. If half the citizenry favor a change, their whims override all checks and balances. Prop 8 is the latest in a long line of disturbing, misguided initiatives that amount to a roll of the dice. Will the majority decide to stamp on a newly fledged right of a gay minority? The contest is too close to call, but as an outsider who hopes that California voters will say no to Prop 8, they should think seriously about moral hazard and the trap it poses.”

And now, of course, we have Maine’s Question 1, which proponents of the gay marriage ban are touting as a “moral” victory because, even in a so-called liberal state such as Maine, gay marriage did not prevail. There can be no moral victory in denying a person their rights, and nor can a moral victory be achieved when opponents obscure the truth in order to win.

It’s my opinion that gay marriage should not be put on the ballot in any state. Nor should civil rights such as the freedom to not be discriminated against at work or to have equal access to spousal health care benefits. America has a separation of powers, a system of checks and balances. Where is the balance of power when it comes to a “people’s veto” or a bias motivated majority?

The court system and legislature exist to protect the minority from the majority.  Consider that of the 29 states which have constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, the majority of those bans were secured by enacting a referendum through public petition alone. 

It is often claimed that gay rights activists are trying to push their “radical gay agenda”, but, in truth, what we saw in Maine yesterday, and in California last year, was a vocal group of a voting majority, not a public majority, circumventing legislature and imposing their will on state law.

And so, with no federal action to stop them, the oppressive element of the voting majority can keep pushing their agenda that argues that gay marriage rights, and gay rights as a whole, aren’t civil rights.

But tell that to the gay couple from New York who were thrown out of a cab for simply hugging, or to the gay rights activists who are now so concerned by what happened in Maine that they are suggesting America has become a land where gay apartheid is flourishing.

And to those who say that domestic/civil partnerships are enough and that we should leave it at that, I think this couple from New Jersey’s newest same-sex marriage advertisement would disagree:



It’s time to have your say: Should gay rights depend on a popular vote? Take our poll below.


Related Voting Day Posts on Care2:

Related Care2 Actions:


Deepak Chopra’s Recent Healthy and Green Living Care2 Posts:

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Photo used under the Creative Commons Attributions License, with thanks to Steve Bott.

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106 comments

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2:08PM PST on Jan 16, 2010

It sounds like Linda is on the war path and cannot stand Christians or their beliefs. I say get over it or move to another country. This country was founded upon Christian principles. You left wing liberals that beleive anything goes with no boundaries are new on the scene and are deviant from the norm. You are trying to force the majority to accept your sinful lifestyle and shove it in our face.... IN YOU DREAMS!

2:00PM PST on Jan 16, 2010

Crystals, how long have you hated straight people, children and God? So now who is the BIGOT!?

5:19PM PST on Nov 22, 2009

Anyone should be free to marry whomever they love. Regardless of gender.

4:16PM PST on Nov 9, 2009

The crux of the matter is the presumption of a parent/child relationship between gay and straight people. The presumption that straight people somehow have the privilege of giving permission to gay people to marry must be confronted. Upon what basis would such a privilege exist? How absurd would we readily recognize it to be were that relationship reversed?

I have come to believe that the real reason that so many straight people lie to pollsters and then vote their prejudices at the voting booth is because they recognize deep in their hearts that their prejudices are sinful. Having to repent of one's failure to love one's neighbor as oneself, to treat one's countrymen and women "with liberty and justice for all" requires taking a long hard look at one's soul. It's a lot easier to simply slink off to the darkness of the voting booth, act on one's prejudices and vote to continue discrimination, rationalizing it with the notion that if one's views are in the majority, they can't be wrong.

Gay people are not asking straight people FOR anything. They are simply asking them to STOP actively discriminating against them. In the final analysis, this entire issue is not about gay people. It's about the character and soul of their straight countrymen and women.

4:28PM PST on Nov 8, 2009

Yes, John Stuart Mill's tyranny of the majority - certain demographics would always miss out if we always rely on a majority vote - quite apart from questions of what should be seen as basic human rights - some countries have managed to accomodate 'minority' groups, realising they have their own needs different from the majority groups - this can be based on ethnicity as in Switzerlands consocialationism, or sexuality too

6:49AM PST on Nov 8, 2009

If civil rights had been decided on a state by state popular vote we still would not have an integrated society. And women would not have the right to vote in all 50 states.

6:18AM PST on Nov 7, 2009

At first I was upset about the amount of homophobes who comment on articles like this one at this site, but after reading so many of their posts I think they are doing a great service to anyone who aren't sure how they feel about LGBTs.

Why? Their letters are idiotic rants. You can just see the saliva spewing from their mouths as they type. Their definitions of what homosexuality actually is is laughable, and their lack of knowledge about human sexuality, especially their own, is pathetic.

I have yet to read a reasonable and intelligent post from any gay hater. I am sure they are making a strong impression on anyone who has passed a science class in high school and are not sure how they feel on this issue, and it's not very flattering.

10:50PM PST on Nov 6, 2009

Also Diana, God says to "love thy neighbor," that includes gays and other LGBT persons. You make God cry.

10:49PM PST on Nov 6, 2009

"God Made women to be his mate"

That is the most ignorant and misogynistic comment. You are pathetic and a disgrace to the female gender.

4:03PM PST on Nov 6, 2009

Diana, you are the one who needs help for your hateful and self centered thinking. Please try to remember that while homosexuality may be against everything that the god of your religion teaches, everyone in this country or the world for that matter doesn't follow that god, and so his teachings don't mean jack to them. If you wish to live only around those who believe your god your way, then may I suggest you get to heaven as soon as possible?

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