Alright, this is getting old. I'm listening to news story after news story about another debate over gay marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships, and voting. The conservatives, most recently in California, are saying that the will of the people is that we "protect" marriage, families, and our traditional American values from the evil homos.
In California, they're saying that the State Supreme Court's invalidation of the San Francisco Marriages proves you can't ignore "the will of the people." This argument has been used a lot recently, and is part of the reason so many states had initiatives on the ballot. There's just one problem with this theory.
THE RIGHTS OF A MINORITY SHOULD NOT BE DETERMINED BY A VOTE OF THE MAJORITY.
Thomas Jefferson said "All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable;that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression."
If we left the rights of the minority up to a popular vote, we would have far fewer ballots to count. Women would not have the right to vote. African Americans wouldn't either. Millions of people of color were able to become US citizens in the first immigration amnesty in 1986. They now have the right to vote, but had the decision been left to the electorate, I doubt that they, their spouses, and their children would hold the power of the lever today.
We might still have slavery. Or Prohibition. I'm certain that bi-racial or inter-racial couples wouldn't have the right to marry in most places. Would our schools still be segregated? Women would not have the right to make decisions about their own bodies, though that right is slowly being whittled away too. Would we have a state religion, determined by which faith boasts the most followers at the time?
Our history is full of examples where the will of the majority was clear...and it was wrong. I'm tempted to make comparisons to Germany in the 1930's and 40's. The will of the majority was also clear there, but it didn't mean that it was correct. Or humane. Or even human. The similarities seem obvious, but if I make those assertions, how many people would stop listening or accuse me of inflating the issue? What about South Africa and Apartheid? Ghandi and the English colonization of India?
Our country first claimed its independence because the controlling government was treating them as second class citizens. They were being taxed unfairly and did not have representation in the government. I pay into Social Security just like my heterosexual friends. But if I die, my partner cannot receive a survivor benefit. Inherited assets such as a house or bank accounts are taxed at a higher rate because we are not married. Health benefits are not accessible. And how long was it before we had openly queer representation in the Federal government? How many states still don't have legislators, city councilmen/women, governors, mayors, etc. who are openly queer? How many had to wait until AFTER an election to do so? Is this not taxation without representation?
I'm not advocating for a violent revolution or an overthrow of the government. I'm simply fed up with the argument that because the polling and vote tallies say most people believe x, y, or z about gay people or their rights, that's the way things should be. History has tried countless times to teach us that the rights of the minority cannot be entrusted solely to the ballot box. It's up to elected officials, legislators, heterosexual allies, and activists. And it's up to so-called activist judges. During the women's rights movement, the civil rights movement, and even before, the term "activist judge" has been used when the courts step in to protect the rights of the few from the will of the many. In other words, when they do their job.
Perhaps this is why we don't let the public majority vote on a person's innocence or guilt. Perhaps it's why we don't vote on budgets. Why we have rules about the separation of Church and State. Why we have the Bill of Rights. Why the term "inalienable rights" is part of the American vocabulary. It's about checks and balances. The three branches of our government working together to create a bright future and a stable present. Maybe this is just a Judicial check balancing out the power that the Executive and Legislative branches have denied the population too long, along with a few Legislative efforts to do the same.
I'd rather the government do what's right instead of what's popular. I know they know how to do that, or we wouldn't still be involved in a war in Iraq with the threat of another in Iran. While it's not popular, we're told that the decision to stay there is right. Let's end the double standards, shall we? I leave you today, gentle readers, with another quote and another example of history trying to teach us from our own mistakes. From a labor activist who died in 1926.
"When great changes occur in history, when great principles are involved, as a rule the majority are wrong. The minority are right." - Eugene Debs