The myth of the will of the people
By Eavan Callaghan
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Download a .pdf file for printing.
Adobe Acrobat Reader required.
Click here to download a free copy.
October 6, 2005�I'm so tired of hearing about the will of the people. You can't put the discrimination of a minority up to a vote of the majority. That's fundamentally flawed.
I know the majority of people are not gay. I know the majority of the people probably even think that being gay is wrong. What the majority of the people want is not the point. Yet the good Reverend Louis P. Sheldon, the right-wing fundamentalist Christian zealot, uses just such a flawed argument. In comments regarding Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's veto of AB 849, the bill passed by the California Legislature that would have provided equal rights and protections to all of the citizens of the State of California, Sheldon said, " . . . the people already spoke on marriage. 4.6 million Californians canﾒt be wrong when it comes to marriage . . .",
I will attempt to educate Reverend Sheldon and his flock of uneducated followers on the Constitution of the United States. I will try to keep it as simple as possible out of respect for the very real possibility that Lou Sheldon and his follower's obvious lack of education could be the result of a lack of intelligence.
Proposition 22 was passed by the voters in California in the 2000 election and limits marriage only to opposite sex couples. Benjamin Lopez, Reverend Sheldon's California lobbyist, proudly proclaims, ". . . 4.6 million Californians who voted for Prop 22 canﾒt be ignored simply to appease a small liberal minority." Well, yes they can, Mr. Lopez, but only if we strictly adhere to the Constitution and the original intent of the Founding Fathers as Lou Sheldon, et al, claim to want.
If people are going to discriminate in life, they are also going to discriminate at the ballot box. We don't put up to a vote whether or not to let the Ku Klux Klan conduct a rally. We all know how that would turn out�it would end up being illegal. But that's free speech which is guaranteed by the very first amendment to the Constitution and it's already been decided by the courts. We let them rally because it is their right to do so.
As an example of how this reasoning is fundamentally flawed, suppose you and I are in a room of 100 fellow employees of which 90-plus are fundamentalist Christians and fewer than 10 are gay. We are there to decide whether or not gays should be allowed to work at our company. We argue for awhile and nobody's mind is changed. The 90-plus fundamentalist Christians don't think we should allow gays to work at our company and the four or five gay people think it's okay, so we decide to do the 'democratic' thing. We're going to put it up to a vote! Why bother. We all know how that would turn out.
The Founding Fathers knew this. That's why they set us up with an independent judiciary that is not accountable to the people. The Founding Fathers remembered clearly the bigotry and intolerance of the Puritans (the Lou Sheldon-type conservative fundamentalist Christians of their day) and wanted some protection for minorities as Harvey Wasserman points out in an Online Journal article:
"One major reason Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Tom Paine, Ethan Allen and the vast majority of early Americans rejected the merger of church and state was the lingering stench of Puritan intolerance. The infamous theocratic murders of the Salem witch trials sickened the American soul . . ."
The Constitution of the United States was written to provide protection for minorities and the Constitution of the United States was written to provide protection form religious zealots like Lou Sheldon and an independent judiciary was established to see that the Constitution was adhered to. This was the specific intent of the people who wrote the Constitution. Lou Sheldon and his fellow fundamentalist Christians, the Puritans of our day, want the judiciary to be accountable to the people who would discriminate. Otherwise he and his followers consider them renegade and activist. Where were these guys educated? Were they even educated? We want judges deciding what's right and what's wrong. We do not want judges doing what the majority of the people want. Lou Sheldon doesn't even want that; he's just not intelligent enough to realize it.
Mel Seesholtz, Ph.D., a professor of English at Pennsylvania State University, correctly points out in an article for Online Journal:
"The point had been clearly made by a 1968 Gallup poll that showed a whopping 72 percent of Americans opposed interracial marriage a year after the Supreme Court legalized it (Loving v. Virginia). A �popularity vote� in 1968 would have delayed interracial marriage equality for years. A "popularity vote" on codifying racial segregation in some Southern states�and probably a few others�in 1950 would almost certainly have delayed African Americans� civil rights for years if not decades."
The fourteenth amendment of the Constitution says that I can't be deprived of liberties without due process of law. Liberty means that I have the right to conduct my life as I see fit even though many people think what I'm doing is wrong. This is true even if the majority of people think what I'm doing is wrong. In fact, this is true even if every person thinks what I'm doing is wrong. Unless, of course, what I'm doing infringes upon someone else's rights. That's the due process part. If judges decide that what I do does not infringe upon any other person's rights, then I have the right to do it. That's the end of it. We don't then put it up to a vote.
Just because some people or even many people think that something is wrong is not a good enough reason to make it illegal. Remember due process. A judge would have to decide that it infringes on someone else's rights or that there is some other legitimate state interest in making it illegal. To make something illegal just because some people may think it's wrong begs the question, "wrong according to whom?" To make something illegal just because the majority of the people are Christian and Christian teaching tells them that it's wrong is making a law respecting the establishment of a religion. That is clearly unconstitutional under the first amendment to the Constitution. It's the very first item in the Bill of Rights! It's unconstitutional to make something illegal just because some religion teaches that it's wrong.
So what's the answer for Lou Sheldon and his puritanical fundamentalist Christian followers? They want to change the Constitution! Yes, the very same people who want 'strict constitutionalists' who will adhere to the original intent of the Founding Fathers as judges want to change the Constitution to discriminate against a minority. Lou Sheldon and his fundamentalist Christian followers want to change the constitution to discriminate against the people the Founding Fathers set up our form of government to protect.
At least one state, Massachusetts, has already decided that it's okay for gays to get married. The fundamentalist Christian is very afraid that these marriages will become recognized by other states. Well, guess what, the Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution says that is exactly what other states are supposed to do. This is not an amendment to the Constitution. This is actually part of the Constitution itself. Once again the answer for Lou Sheldon and the fundamentalist Christian is to change the Constitution.
Here's a news flash for Lou Sheldon and the right-wing conservative fundamentalist Christians of this country, the Constitution of the United States is a liberal document. The Constitution of the United States is designed to protect the very people that Lou Sheldon and the right-wing conservative fundamentalist Christians would have thrown in jail or eliminated from the face of the Earth all together.
So who is the activist? Who is it that wants to change the meaning of the Constitution or, indeed, to change the Constitution itself? Who are the renegades who want to deviate from the original intent of the Founding Fathers? Why, it�s Lou Sheldon and the right-wing conservative fundamentalist Christians. The fundamentalist Christians rail against those who seek to change the meaning of the Constitution and yet it is they who want to not only change the meaning but to actually change the Constitution itself.
The Family Research Counsel, another conservative fundamentalist Christian group led by the narrow minded Tony Perkins, recently put the definition of a bigot in an article on their web site denouncing the passage of a hate crimes bill that includes gays:
"A bigot is one who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ believing they, as a group, deserve special treatment above and beyond everyone else. If you ask most Members of the House of Representatives what they thought of bigotry they would rightfully condemn the act, which makes it inexplicable that 223 Members of Congress would vote last night to make a new tier of hate crimes�one for homosexuals, with harsher penalties, and another for everyone else."
Leaving aside the fact that " . . . believing they, as a group, deserve special treatment . . ." is not part of the definition of a bigot and, thus, bigotry had nothing to do with the passage of the bill, this definition fits Tony Perkins, Lou Sheldon and the fundamentalist Christians to a tee. The definition is simply, "one who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ."
I actually admire the fundamentalist Christians for having strongly held beliefs. It is their right and I actually think it's good. It's the intolerance part that I have a problem with and who is more intolerant than fundamentalist Christians? This is especially true with respect to their attitudes regarding gays.
I don't know how these facts could escape Lou Sheldon, Tony Perkins and their followers. They put the definition of a bigot on their web site which they denounce but which fits them to a tee. They denounce people who they claim want to change the meaning of the Constitution as renegades and activists while it is they who want to actually change the Constitution. They say they want to adhere to the original intent of the Founding Fathers but they want to change what the Founding Fathers wrote to suit their purposes. They want to eliminate the minority protections the Founding Fathers took great pains to provide us with and they want to codify religious dogma which is clearly unconstitutional. I can't decide if they are hypocrites or terribly undereducated or just plain stupid. I suspect a lot of all three.