Friday, October 9, 2009

Majority Rule and Gay Rights in the US

On the same day
the House approves a measure to include anti-gay violence as a hate crime, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life announces the results of their recent survey on gay marriage. A clear majority of Americans (57%) support civil unions for lesbian and gay couples, yet:

Over the past year, support for civil unions has grown significantly among those who oppose same-sex marriage (24% in August 2008 to 30% in 2009) while remaining stable among those who favor same-sex marriage. At the same time, opponents of same-sex marriage continue to outnumber supporters overall. An August 2009 Pew Research Center survey finds that 53% oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, compared with 39% who support same-sex marriage, numbers that are virtually unchanged over the past year. [Emphasis mine.]

The study finds that age, sex, education, race, religion, and region all contribute to public views on gay marriage.

Which leads me to the following comment on majority rule and the rights of minorities:

But majority rule, by itself, is not automatically democratic. No one, for example, would call a system fair or just that permitted 51 percent of the population to oppress the remaining 49 percent in the name of the majority.

In a democratic society, majority rule must be coupled with guarantees of individual human rights that, in turn, serve to protect the rights of minorities and dissenters — whether ethnic, religious, or simply the losers in political debate. The rights of minorities do not depend upon the good will of the majority and cannot be eliminated by majority vote. The rights of minorities are protected because democratic laws and institutions protect the rights of all citizens.

Minorities need to trust the government to protect their rights and safety. Once this is accomplished, such groups can participate in, and contribute to their country’s democratic institutions. The principle of majority rule and minority rights characterizes all modern democracies, no matter how varied in history, culture, population, and economy.

From “Democracy in Brief,” by the Bureau of International Information Programs,
U.S. Department of State,

Many on the right continue to tout the constitution and majority opinion when they argue against rights of minorities, including those of women, gays, and the elderly, albeit inconsistently. When public opinion reached a majority approval for abortion, opponents skirted majority opinion discussions, citing activist judges and a "culture of death."

Yet, history has shown that democracies, particularly antiquated ones like our own, neglect the rights of minorities. When public opinion fails to protect minority rights, our courts are left to correct the injustice. The success of Proposition 8 in California in November 2008 proved that minority groups will continue to be suppressed, violated, and subjugated if public opinion is relied on for their protection.

The other lesson of Proposition 8 is that fear and out-of-state monies can be used to influence public opinion against minorities.

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