Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage in California, approved last November by a ballot measure, was upheld by the California Supreme Court today.
In a post on Jezebel, I commented that to not have upheld the measure would have been disastrous, with what that would imply politically. Andrew Sullivan wrote on his blog that “[i]t would have been dreadful if voters were retroactively told their valid vote was somehow null and void – it would have felt like a bait and switch and provoked a horrible backlash.”
Folks responded to me that “voting on civil rights is not, and never was, part of what democracy encompasses” and that “democracy does not entail permitting majority tyranny.” Sounds good, but then who does get to make the decisions on civil rights issues, if not “the people”? And who identifies what is and isn’t a civil rights issue?
There are a lot of tricky elements to this, and I’m not really sure how and where and by whom questions of same sex marriage are to be worked out, because the fact is that currently in most states same sex couples don’t have the same rights as everyone else, and this is something that is up for discussion. I certainly don’t find it “more” democratic to just leave it in the hands of elected officials because it would be wrong to allow people to make decisions about other people’s civil rights. Not to mention that this wouldn’t even be up for discussion if not for groups like the HRC, which is meant to represent the wishes of ordinary GLBTA people. And without “the people,” of course, the ball wouldn’t have been set rolling on the civil rights movement of the ’60s. Are we meant to only listen to the people when they say something we like?
I think the same sex marriage ban is shameful and prejudicial, and something we’ll one day look back on with incredulity the way we do Jim Crow laws. But I don’t know about telling people their votes are meaningless, either.
All this aside–I’m not a student of political science or government, and don’t even know about the legality of putting same sex marriage up as a ballot measure after the CA Supreme Court had already legalized it, as it did in May 2008–I’m mostly surprised by how many folks insist we live in a democracy and as such must follow democratic principles, i.e. not allowing a majority group to decide a minority group’s rights. As if the country weren’t founded by wealthy white land- and slave-owning males, as if they didn’t found it with folks like themselves in mind, as if we didn’t have a two-party system that represented a tiny slice of a huge ideological spectrum, as if our elected officials reflected in any way our country’s demographics, as if it were as easy as just pulling oneself up by the bootstraps to succeed, as if the system weren’t controlled by an oligarchy of corporations rather than “the people,” as if you could have a say in what was decided in government without the backing of a wealthy and well-established lobby, as if our Ivy League schools weren’t feeders of yet more old money White Anglo Saxon Protestants into the business and political realms, where they continue to perpetuate a system that has always benefited them…
If things weren’t that way, then yes, this Prop 8 decision would be outrageous. But in light of the fact that they aren’t, the least we can do is not start down the very dangerous road of rendering people’s votes null and void when we find them unfair, whether or not soliciting their votes was morally justified in the first place.