I know, I know, it’s been a few weeks since the election, but I needed some time to organize and articulate my thoughts here. And today seems to be a timely one to talk about this issue, since I discussed Will Phillips (who knows what’s what) and the Transgender Day of Remembrance earlier.
Because, here’s the thing: We should not be asking the majority to decide on the rights of the minority.
It just doesn’t make sense. Even if you’re not a member of the minority, surely you should see how this approach is incredibly problematic. What do majorities like to do? They like to retain their majority. It is the nature of the majority, and, honestly, the nature of social psychology. The majority will protect itself, even if it means actively oppressing the minority in order to do so, and this means that when things which involve the rights of minorities are brought to a vote, they are going to lose.
If white people had voted on whether or not Black people should be allowed to vote, it would have taken a lot longer to extend the right to vote to Blacks. Instead, the government decided that it needed to protect the rights of the minority, and so it made a law. Likewise, if white people had voted on whether or not interracial marriage should be allowed, it probably wouldn’t have been. Which is why individual state governments moved legislation through to strike down anti-miscegenation laws.
Because governments are obliged to defend and protect all of their citizens, not just the majority, even though they don’t always do a terrific job of protecting minorities. The system of government, in fact, is structured in a way which recognizes this, accepting that the majority cannot and should not decide what should happen to the minority, or we’re going to be here forever. Stuck this way. Disempowered.
Same sex marriage should not be put on the ballot for a vote. Just like abortion should not be on the ballot for a vote. Just like protections for trans people should not be on the ballot for a vote. Because the majority is going to vote to protect its interests, for the most part, and that means that these measures are going to fail. And once a vote has gone through, it’s going to be harder to repeal, because of this whole “will of the people” argument that will get hauled out to defend inequality.
It’s a sad fact that most people, to some extent, want inequality if it’s going to protect their position of power. Very few people are willing to vote against their interests when doing so means that they will lose power and privilege. And this means that when you ask a mostly hetero society whether or not people of the same gender should be allowed to marry, society is going to say “no.”
But society should not get to decide.
Society as a collective should not have the right to choose for the minority. It just doesn’t make sense.
This is a case in which the federal government should step in to take action. Because the government has the power to repeal DOMA, which would set the stage for widespread legalization by the state governments. The people don’t get consulted on this one, because their opinion, honestly, doesn’t matter. The question is not what the majority wants, the question is what the minority needs. [1. And no, marriage is not the most pressing and important need of folks in the LGBQT community, at all, but it is a symbol, and a potent one, at that. It’s a concrete concept which could be used to advance more abstract ones. Although I would prefer that we rethink our approach to partnerships recognized by the government; I would prefer all legally recognized relationships to be civil unions, with marriage being an optional private ceremony which people can choose to engage in or not. We need to get God out of the government, and marriage is very much a God thing.]
Just as we should not have a measure on the ballot asking whether or not Latin@ children should be allowed to go to school. Just as we should not have a measure on the ballot asking if Asian people should be allowed to own property. Just as we should not have a measure on the ballot asking if it’s ok to keep Black people as slaves. Just as we should not have a measure on the ballot asking if employers should have the privilege to fire people with disabilities because they are disabled.
The majority will defend itself. The majority is an organism, of sorts, and it is going to protect itself because that is all that it knows how to do. The majority does not care about equality, in fact, it senses equality as a threat, which means that it is going to fight it.
This is why the majority should not have been allowed to decide for the minority, ever.
We, collectively, as a society, are doing this wrong if we cannot recognize that measures about minority rights do not belong on the ballot. They shouldn’t have been on the ballot in the first place, people should not be pushing to add them to the ballot, and, in fact, we need to reform this whole voting and elections system to make sure that human rights issues are not put to a majority vote.
And, while we’re at it, we need to talk about how ballot measures are framed. Because the language is extremely confusing. I know some pro-equality folks who voted yes on 8 last November because they should “yes” meant “yes to same sex marriage.” The language around Referendum 71 in Washington this year was equally confusing.
This was not accidental. There was a very deliberate choice to make things as confusing as possible to entrap people. To trick people into voting against their beliefs. This kind of misleading, confusing language needs to be eradicated on all ballot measures, and we need to make sure that people understand what yes and no votes actually mean. The language in the voter’s guide is usually useless and equally misleading. We may have a high literacy rate on paper here, but many Americans are functionally illiterate, unable to understand things like wording in a voter’s guide, and we need to address this. People should know what their vote means so that they can actually exercise choice at the polls.
And they should only be choosing on things which are appropriate to put to the vote. Human rights? Not a voting matter. State budgets? Not a voting matter. There’s a reason the government is structured the way it is, and subverting that is not always appropriate.