The dangers of voting on civil rights
By K�llia Ramares
Online Journal Associate Editor

Nov 9, 2009, 00:21

PORTLAND, Maine, November 4, 2009 (AP) -- In an election that had been billed for weeks as too close to call, Maine�s often unpredictable voters repealed a state law Tuesday that would have allowed same-sex couples to wed. Gay marriage has now lost in all 31 states in which it has been put to a popular vote � a trend that the gay-rights movement had believed it could end in Maine.

The following is an excerpt from a column by Huffington Post Blogger Mike Alvear of Atlanta, GA:

�Sometimes I wonder how the framers of the Constitution would react to Maine�s vote this Tuesday on whether gay people should keep their right to marry.

�I�m pretty sure Jefferson would weep.

�And the others would share his hankie. For this must be the founding father�s nightmare: Seeing one group of Americans go into the voting booth to take away the rights of another . . .

� . . . No matter what side you�re on, no matter what the result of the final tally, voting is the enemy of equality.�

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said in 1958, �When any society says that I cannot marry a certain person, that society has cut off a segment of my freedom.�

In Loving v. Virginia, a case involving the right of an interracial couple to wed, the US Supreme Court reminded us in 1967 that: �The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men. Marriage is one of the �basic civil rights of man,� fundamental to our very existence and survival. Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 541 (1942). See also Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190 (1888).

The Supreme Court used Loving v. Virginia to strike down �anti-miscegenation� statutes barring interracial marriage as violating the 14th Amendment�s guarantees of equal protection of the laws and due process. That decision is the constitutional foundation upon which gays and lesbians assert their right to marry. In 2007, at a celebration marking the 40th Anniversary of the Loving decision, the usually reclusive Mrs. Loving, by then a widow, allowed the reading, on her behalf, of a statement in favor of same-sex-marriage.

Equal protection of the laws and due process are the pillars of civil rights jurisprudence in America. But those pillars are tottering in 2009. Consider that Maine�s vote-down of same -sex marriage occurred just weeks after a justice of the peace in Louisiana refused to give a marriage license to an interracial couple.

I would remind everyone who thinks that they are preserving freedom by displaying guns near presidential speeches, or opposing health care for all to spare us from socialism that voting on other people�s rights in the name of democracy sets a dangerous precedent. It is very easy to shout �majority rules� and �the will of the people� when you are in the majority. You won�t be so glib about that when you are in the minority. And someday you may be. Political passions wax and wane; majorities shift.

Sometimes a nation is more liberal and sometimes it is more conservative. But if it ever a society in which some people have fundamental rights, such as the right to marry, and others don�t, because, in the politics of the day, a �majority,� out of ignorance or prejudice, has voted against those rights, it is not a nation at all, just a group of cohabitating factions, some of which have more power than others. As Malcolm X said: �If you have to fight for your civil rights, you are not a citizen.�

Even when a group is successful in gaining civil rights at the ballot box, the cost in terms of social cohesion can be great. Consider the Women�s Suffrage movement. Women needed men to pass and then ratify the 19th Amendment. They got the vote via a campaign that was often racist and xenophobic. White women argued that if black men and immigrant men had the vote why should women who were both white and native born, and by implication superior to blacks and immigrants, be denied?

The people of those 31 states that have voted down same-sex marriage ought not to be celebrating. They ought to be very frightened of what they have done . . . to themselves. For where does this end? Do these people mount an armed rebellion if this issue reaches the Supreme Court, as it probably will, and the justices, relying on the Loving precedent, strike down all the bigotry enshrined in the various anti-same-sex marriage laws voted by the people? Or, if their prejudice is judicially upheld, what right and what group will be targeted next? Will it be the right to own property, to be free of employment or housing discrimination, to access public accommodations or to enter certain jobs and professions? Will it be people of color, or women, or immigrants, even those here legally? Or will it be people who do not subscribe to certain religious beliefs or who belong to certain religious sects?

One would have hoped that Mormons and Catholics, both historic victims of discrimination, would have not succumbed to the temptation of indulging in prejudice in the name of religion. And to their credit, individuals of both religions have not so succumbed. But institutionally, these religious groups have clothed prejudice in religiosity and have used the state to deny people civil equality in order to enforce their particular belief systems on people who are not members of their churches. Before they seek their next victims, they should remember that what goes around comes around. Are they so sure that they will be welcomed into the halls of power if the United States turns from democracy into theocracy?

But there is one issue that is being overlooked in this debate on same-sex-marriage: The insistence on a public vote on same-sex marriage reflects, at least in part, public frustration over the fact that the people�s voice does not count in so many other more properly public and votable matters. The people want affordable, accessible health care; instead, they are getting bills in Congress that prioritize insurance company profits over people. The people want an end to the costly wars that politicians lied to get us into; instead, they are getting escalation of those wars. The people did not want their tax money given to the banksters while they are losing their homes and jobs; instead, the money flowed to Wall Street, not Main street.

This sort of thing has been going on for over 10 years now. The people did not want Bill Clinton impeached, but he was. The people wanted Al Gore and John Kerry to be president, but it was George W. Bush who served two terms. I don�t know if we ever have had a similar period in American history during which the will of the people has been so completely ignored on such a vast array of important public affairs for so long a time.

Now the frustrated people have found an issue where they can vote and make the results stick. Only the issue is one of the civil rights of their fellow Americans, a matter that should not be voted on at all. And while the people argue -- and vote -- over same-sex marriage, they are being fleeced and killed in record numbers.

�Yeah, we may be sick, bankrupt, out of a home and out of a job, but at least we made sure those fags can�t get married!�

The powers that be are laughing at you. Your fight over what consenting adults do in the bedroom is taking your eyes and your minds off their crimes. And that�s just the way they like it.

K�llia Ramares is a freelance journalist in Oakland, CA. Her website is Broadcaster At-Large. Licensed under Creative Commons by K�llia Ramares, 2009. BY-NC-SA

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