by Mat Wadsworth
The last couple weeks have been good for gay rights supporters. Washington became the seventh state to recognize legalized gay marriage, the NewJersey Senate passed a gay marriage bill, and the Ninth Circuit decided that discrimination solely for the sake of discrimination is unconstitutional. Across the country, less-ambitious, though no-less-essential lawsuits to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) are moving forward.
Gay rights seem to be advancing on all fronts at the moment.
There will no doubt be setbacks in the years and decades to come. Rick Santorum appears to be gaining momentum in the 2012 Republican primaries. Santorum’s vehemently anti-gay stance is notable enough that his last-name has famously been redefined by gay activists.
However, recent polling suggests that full-acceptance of gay rights is increasingly inevitable. Poll after poll shows public opinion shifting in favor of gay marriage, particularly among young Americans. Even young conservatives are increasingly voicing their opinion that they just don’t care about gay marriage.
It is increasingly likely that the debate about gay marriage is a “when” and “how” debate, not an “if” debate. There are various schools of thought on the best way to push forward for gay rights.
The ultimate goal must be federal Constitutional recognition that all Americans are entitled to marriage, regardless of their sexual orientation. However, that recognition may not occur in the near future. A more direct, though conservative approach has been to pursue rights on a state-by-state basis.
Several states believe the right answer is to put the issue up for a popular vote. Governor Chris Christie has promised to veto the gay marriage bill moving its way through the New Jersey legislature. Christie believes that changes this drastic should be decided by a popular vote, and he has called for a statewide referendum on the issue. A cynic would say that he sees the winds shifting and does not want to come out against gay marriage, but he also cannot damage his conservative credentials by signing the bill. Instead, he is doing his best to avoid giving a direct opinion on the issue.
This week, Washington became the 7th state to recognize gay marriage. Last week, during the floor debate on the bill, Washington representative Maureen Walsh (R) explained quite eloquently why it is fundamentally wrong-headed to put civil rights up for popular vote.
Walsh told a story about her daughter standing up to a bully who was picking on a weaker kid. “My daughter stood up for that kid. Even though it wasn’t the popular thing to do, she knew it was the right thing to do… She was speaking against the vocal majority on behalf of the rights of the minority.” She concluded that “it is incumbent on us as legislators in this state to do that. That is why we are here.”
It’s a simple story, but it precisely conveys the problem with leaving popular rights to the fickle whim of the voting populace. Anyone can put together a voting majority. Anyone can put together a stronger, bigger bully to strip the rights from a weaker, smaller minority on any given election day. Particularly in today’s mass-media, superPAC driven election cycles.
The idea that a majority of voters get to define the rights of a minority of people is repugnant to the concept that all men are created equal. It is repugnant to the concept that all men are endowed with certain unalienable rights. I do not care what majority or minority I happen to be in today; I reject the idea that my rights are up for vote.
There is a fundamental defect in the idea that the electorate gets to vote on my or anyone else’s rights. This country was founded on the idea that all men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” If we buy into that high-minded ideal, then all people have rights simply because they have been born. People are not granted rights by the whims of the majority.
The vast majority of people would agree that marriage is one of those fundamental rights. The US Supreme Court has held that “Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival.” If it is correct that marriage is a fundamental right of man, then it must follow that all men are endowed with that right simply by being born. They are not granted that right by the whim of the electorate.
To Governor Christie, and anyone else who supports putting rights to a popular vote: it is incumbent on you as legislators to decide if marriage is a fundamental right of all men, or if it is not. If it is a fundamental right, then the voting populace has no business deciding who benefits from that right, no matter how they may decide.
Denying homosexuals the word “marriage” “serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and Lesbians… and to officially reclassify their relationships as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.” That cannot be acceptable in a modern society, no matter what the majority of people happen to think today, tomorrow, or ten years from now.