Thursday, November 05, 2009

Should Voters Not Always Have a Say?

Blogger and educator Bobby Cramer (aka Mustang Bobby) makes an excellent point in The Reaction today, reflecting on Tuesday’s disappointing vote to overturn Maine’s marriage equality law:
Beyond the analysis of who voted for or against the measure and what part of the state they lived in, one of the questions that arises is whether or not such a question should even be put to a popular vote. Are there some rights that are so fundamental that leaving them up to the whims and the machinations of the campaign trail puts them in danger? Do you really think that the people of Kansas would have repealed state laws that allowed school segregation in 1954? What would the state of civil rights be if, in 1964 and 1965, Congress had not passed federal legislation that established fair housing and voting rights and had instead left them up to the states? Would Virginia have repealed their miscegenation laws without the ruling from the Supreme Court in 1967? Would women have the right to vote had it been left up to the states like it was in 1920 before the passage of the 19th Amendment?

The response of a lot of people is that the voters should have the final say, and if they pass a referendum, that’s it. That is a noble sentiment, but that’s not the system we have. We have a representative democracy; we elect people to go to the city council, the county commission, the state house, and the United States Congress to do our business for us and to do more than just be a rubber stamp. And we have an equal part of our government in the judiciary that oversees whether or not the laws that are passed by the people or the legislature are fair or are equally applied. Just because a majority of voters cast a vote for an issue doesn’t make it right; our history is replete with unjust laws that have been voted through. Case in point, Colorado’s odious Amendment 2 that “would have prevented any city, town or county in the state from taking any legislative, executive, or judicial action from recognizing gay citizens as a Protected class.” It took a Supreme Court ruling in 1996 to say yes, indeed, in some cases, gay citizens have the same rights as everyone else and can sue for discrimination. In short, the voters can--and have--made mistakes. They can be swayed by emotional arguments that have no bearing on the law, and as is the case of marriage equality, fear and loathing of The Gay isn’t far beneath the surface.
Cramer’s full post can be found here.

I’m in agreement with Cramer on this matter. Sometimes, lawmakers need to step up and take actions that are in the best interests of the nation, even if Americans don’t necessarily recognize those best interests. Fear of change--which is always going to be with us--can’t be allowed to stand in the way of justice, equality, or public assistance, regardless of whether the fear has to do with gays and lesbians getting married, health-care reforms, or the short-term costs of long-term advances.

As pertains to same-sex marriage, though, Katie Connolly of Newsweek’s political blog, The Gaggle, reassures us that today’s obstructionists are fighting a losing battle:
I tend to think of gay rights as a generational issue. Nate Silver, the FiveThirtyEight blogger who builds extraordinarily insightful electoral models, finds that support for banning gay marriage is eroding at a pace of 2 percentage points each year. Young people tend to be more supportive, and over time, I think that view will prevail. In years to come, opposition to gay rights will be as outdated a mindset as denying women the vote seems today. The train is moving in one direction, and, like many movements before it, young people are driving.

There are lots of reasons young people are less bothered by gay rights than older folks. Young people are more comfortable coming out than ever (although I imagine it’s still no easy feat). More and more young people know someone who is openly gay, and research conducted by Gallup indicates that people are more likely to support gay rights, like marriage, if they personally know someone who is gay. A Hattaway Communications/Lake Research Partners poll conducted earlier this year in Massachusetts also found that opposition to gay marriage had diminished significantly since that state first legalized it more than five years ago. As Massachusetts residents grew accustomed to having gay married couples in their state, the poll found that they even began to associate marriage equality with promoting family values.
So, while same-sex marriage supporters in Maine, California, and elsewhere are justifiably frustrated now, they might rest assured that their viewpoint will win out in time. How much time is needed, of course, can’t yet be judged.

READ MORE:Urban, Rural Divide Defines Differing Views on Marriage,” by Kevin Miller (Bangor Daily News).

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