Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Democracy at Work

The issue of gay marriage reveals why democratic approaches to policy are so inferior to principled ones. In this case both the left and right can be left out.

I have explained previously how the churches, who should be in control of the institution, are left without the final say on the matter, to the dismay of the right. The state has ultimate control of who marries, or doesn't.

The left has the hardest time accepting the possibility that democracy can work against the cause of civil rights, but has the most stark examples of just that happening. Gay marriage is merely the latest. It is clear that if the issue were to be put to the vote, the American people would ban gay marriage, post haste. From Armstrong Williams:

"A recent Zogby poll indicated that 70 percent of Massachusetts's citizens do not favor the decision allowing homosexual couples to marry. And it's not just Massachusetts. Recent polls by "The New York Times" and CBS News and one by "USA Today" and CNN, all found that more than 60 percent of Americans oppose the legalization of homosexual unions."


"Just one thing - there is also a long tradition in this country of using moral codes to prohibit conduct deemed immoral by the majority of the citizens, as evidenced by restrictions against prostitution, bestiality, pedophilia, etc. As Justice Scalia tersely noted in his dissent, Texas's anti-sodomy laws is "well within the range of traditional democratic action, and its hand should not be stayed through the invention of a brand-new 'constitutional right' by a court that is impatient of democratic change." In other words, the matter of homosexual rights should not simply be dictated by the whims of appointed judges."

Nor, however, should the matter be dictated by the whim of mob rule, which is the straight-talk definition of 'rule by the majority'. It shouldn't even be dictated by the long tradition of excluding homosexuals.

I wonder, for instance, how Mr. Williams would feel if a referendum were on the ballot which excluded blacks from the right to marry whites. Williams, a black man, might be inclined to cry foul, citing the civil rights of blacks to choose their spouse. Alas, there had been a long tradition in this country of using moral codes to prohibit conduct deemed immoral by the majority of the citizens- in this case, miscegenation. There was a long tradition of Jim Crow. Was it the long tradition that justified it? Was it that the majority supported it?

No, the moral principle of equal treatment before the law is far more compelling than a long, and wrong, tradition. For libertarians, the saw goes, 'democracy is often little more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner'. Democracy should never be used as a tool of oppression, which is what it can easily become.

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