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Changing the Terms of Debate

November 9th, 2009 1 comment

An opinion piece in today’s Asbury Park Press, a New Jersey paper, argues that that there’s no need to “rush” gay marriage through a lame-duck session of theĀ  legislature. (Outgoing Governor Corzine will sign it if it reaches him before his term expires in January; Governor-elect Christie would veto such a measure.)

Whatever the merits of the argument about enacting laws during a lame-duck session, something else about the piece was noteworthy. The editors, after noting that marriage equality has been consistently voted down when put up as a referendum, said:

[Gay marriage] is legal in five states, but only through acts of legislatures or by court mandates.

Only” through acts of legislatures? This is called “representative democracy,” by the way. It’s not perfect, which is why courts are standing by to pass on the constitutionality of measures enacted. But matters are far worse when rights are put up for popular vote. Then there’s no filter between the most visceral impulses of the “mob” and the protection of minorities. As Jesse Ventura (remember him?) aptly stated in the wake of the Maine marriage equality vote:

“You can’t put a civil rights issue on the ballot and let the people decide. You have to have elected officials to who have courage to make the right decision. If you left it up to the people, we’d have slavery, depending on how you worded it.” (h/t Joe.My.God)

It’s bad enough that many states allow just this sort of popularity contest on basic rights. Journalists shouldn’t be making it worse by suggesting that the legislature is somehow subordinate to the plebiscite.