Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Voting on someone else's rights: The fad that never gets old

Colored states already have discrimination written into their
constitutions. This map should contain no color.
As if to illustrate that point, at least two states next year — North Carolina and Minnesota — will vote on whether to enshrine discrimination in their constitutions by denying gay people the rights that heterosexual couples enjoy through marriage. Indiana will very likely vote on a similar amendment in 2014. (Come on, Hoosiers! Like, uh, everyone else is doing it!)

North Carolina will almost certainly approve the discrimination. (No surprise there — it's the very last Southern state to join the party.) Minnesota could go either way. My best guess? The land of 10,000 lakes will do the right (if unpopular) thing and reject that filth, if only by a negligible margin.

I've written about this topic many times before. I hope I'll never have to write about it again. The notion of placing basic rights to a public vote — especially those of a minority group — is nothing short of vile. Repugnant. Disgusting. Contemptible. What other adjectives shall I use? There aren't enough to adequately capture my disdain.

It's not just unfair. It's not just discriminatory and prejudicial. It makes a mockery of state (and the federal) constitutions — sacred documents that (in theory) were intended to defend and uphold the rights of the minority against the tyranny of the majority.

Fellow Christians: If you endorse this type of abomination, can you really question why our faith receives a bad name? Would you like your right to practice your faith freely to be placed to a public vote? How about your marriage? What if members of another faith advocated for just that? How would you feel about that faith?

Proponents of such initiatives self-righteously argue that there's nothing more American than giving people the opportunity to vote on this issue (with the unspoken qualifier, of course, that voters make the desired choice).

During the 1950s and 1960s, when interracial marriage was a topic of intense social debate, how many of the states on the map above would have been colored in red or black, had voters in each of those states been given a chance to weigh in on the matter?

Possibly — no, probably — just as many, if not more, than are colored now. (Has anyone seen the 1967 film "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner"? If not, I highly recommend it. It's about a San Francisco couple who consider themselves to be politically progressive, until they find out that their white daughter plans to marry a black man. The movie does a good job highlighting the social tensions of the time over the issue of interracial marriage.)

Voting as members of a democratic society is as American as apple pie. Make no mistake about that.

However, make no mistake about this: Voters don't always make the right choice. In fact, we often do not. We are human beings. Thus, we cannot gauge the morality of public policy based solely upon what voters decide.

That's precisely why a government based on a system of checks and balances is essential. Government, at all levels, is operated by broken human beings.

It's why the voting process isn't perfect, either. Voting allows individuals to register their prejudice in secret. Those who publicly conceal their homophobia — knowing that it's socially unacceptable — can make it fully known at the ballot box, where it does far more damage.

And damage is exactly what we do to the integrity of our democracy each time we allow the basic rights of another group to be put to a vote, simply to accommodate the political trends of the moment. How can we be sure that our own rights won't be the target of those trends next?

Is this really the kind of "free" country we want to live in?

It's time to send these despicable constitutional amendments to the dustbin of history, where they belong.


  1. The Founding Fathers were wise to not allow referendum or plebiscite to be a means for amending the U.S. Constitution. Common passion or prejudice should never have direct control over altering the basic law of the land which protects individuals and minorities from the tyranny of the majority. Unfortunately, such protection does not always pertain to state constitutions.

  2. Civil marriage and religious marriage are and should be two separate things. Civil marriage for all, religious marriage for some.