Over the past two weeks, we’ve all celebrated the election of Mr Obama to the White House ending 8 years of Bush administration but something else has been happening across the US that’s been cause for less celebration. On the same day that the people of the US voted in the new president-elect, in a few US states, most prominently in California, constitution amendments have been passed that have directly or indirectly targeted the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual) community, or LGBTQ community as some like to call it, adding Queer to it, fearless in the face of endless acronyms.
The award for the most talked-about anti-gay initiative must be given to California’s proposition 8 which has come about in response to the state’s Supreme Court ruling earlier this year which defined as unconstitutional a previous law banning same-sex marriage. I will not go into the legal details of the debate as I’m clearly not an expert in the field but for those who are unaware of the timeline of this debate, here goes. (Those who know already can skip to the next paragraph.)
2000: 60% of California voters passed a law defining marriage as only between a man and a woman.
2003-2004: the California legislature attempts to pass laws to legalise same-sex marriage but the laws are vetoed by Governor A. Schwarzenegger who says it is a decision for the courts.
May 2008: the California Supreme Court finds the 2000 law violates the California Constitution and strikes to invalidate it, effectively legalising same-sex marriage in the state.
4 Nov 2008: 52% of California voters pass proposition 8 to amend the constitution in an attempt to void the Supreme Court’s ruling after a campaign heavily funded by religious groups hostile to homosexuality, first among them the LDS (Mormon) Church.
17 Nov 2008: The Supreme Court has to decide whether it will hear a series of lawsuits questioning the legitimacy of the proposition based on arguments that I won’t go into but that are richly explained all over the internet.
At the same time as people, associations and political bodies were filing lawsuits calling for the repeal of Prop 8, thousands more were protesting in the streets across the US and beyond about the proposition’s intent to strip a section of the population of their rights.
As people started to complain, some more people started to complain about people complaining, saying the proposition passed, people have spoken and if they don’t like democracy they should move to Iran. On the other side people contested that protesting for civil rights is how the battle for civil rights is fought and if they want to live in a country where religious beliefs are imposed on everyone regardless of their personal beliefs, then they should move to Iran.
It’s interesting to consider how everything seems to go back to this idea of going to Iran, but that’s beyond the point at the moment.
The question is more about democracy and fairness, and how these principles can best be applied. On this, I must come clean and confess that I have my reservations on widely accepted democratic principles like universal suffrage. It seems to me that it can be argued that the interests of society would best be served restricting voting rights to people who deserve them (literacy tests? attitude tests?…). I haven’t articulated the terms of this theory very precisely as I only half believe it and am provocatively suggesting it to introduce my suspicion that what the majority thinks is right might not always be what’s best for society. How do you know what’s best? Indeed. This is certainly a dangerous assertion to make and one in favour of which I will not argue presently but we can’t deny that many a dark chapter in our history have had full backing of a large majority of the population. In fact, we would probably find (if we had the patience to look into it) that most political forces in our recent history have largely emerged on the back of very strong popular support. Hitler wasn’t the least popular boy in the schoolyard, yet we all concord today that many of his political choices were questionable and not the best argument for majority ruling.
The Constitution in California clearly tries to defend minorities against mob rule and the Supreme Court is the organ that’s set as guardian of these principles. I, for one, hope that proposition 8 will not be enacted, that the Supreme Court will stand by its previous ruling that marriage is a fundamental right and will send a strong hopeful message to people everywhere (what I was previously hoping to get from the people of California) defending what now seems to be the only minority group left that it’s still societally acceptable to discriminate against.