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.
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