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As gays and lesbians, we’re not unused to hearing lies told about us. For decades, homophobes and anti-gay activists have relied on the big lies to stoke fear of equality: the myth of recruitment, the specter of deviancy. In more recent years, foes of marriage equality such as Maggie Gallagher and the National Organization for Marriage, have told different lies: lies about our relationships, lies about our children, lies about their own heterosexual marriages.
Each lie is a slap in the face, but to some extent tolerable because we’re confident that eventually our truth will win. The untruths spread by Anita Bryant in 1970s, Jerry Falwell in the 1980s, and James Dobson in the 1990s, have lost much of their sting as society has grown in its acceptance of gay and lesbian people. It’s not unreasonable to think that the lies that led to the passage of Proposition 8 will lose their sting over time as well.
But perhaps the most pernicious lie being foisted on the nation by those opposed to gay and lesbian equality is the lie about democracy — namely, the idea that the value of our lives should be determined by majority vote.
It wasn’t that long ago that anti-gay groups lamented the fact that the gay movement had achieved many of its gains through the court system — overturning Colorado’s Amendment 2, ending sodomy laws with Lawrence v. Texas — claiming that any pro-gay action by a court amounted to judicial activism. Legitimacy, we were told, could only come through the legislative process.
So when we began achieving victories through legislation as well, the definition of legitimacy changed. For those opposed to marriage equality, convincing a democratically elected legislature is now no longer enough.
Tuesday night, Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle (R) vetoed the civil-unions bill that had been passed by the state’s legislature, calling it ”marriage by another name,” and saying that it ”would be a mistake to allow a decision of this magnitude to be made by one individual.”
Well, of course it would be a mistake for one person to make a decision of that magnitude. That’s why a legislature — pretty much by definition consisting of more than one person — considered, debated and passed the legislation.
Lingle attempts to cloak her cowardice in the symbols of democracy, claiming the decision on civil unions should be decided ”by all the people of Hawaii behind the curtain of the voting booth.”
I wish I could say that I was surprised by what is either ignorance of or disinterest in the American political system. We don’t live in a direct democracy in which every issue, from the most pressing to the most frivolous, is put to the vote. As P.J. O’Rourke wrote, majority rule is ”not only worth dying for; it can make you wish you were dead. … Every meal would be a pizza. Every pair of pants…would be stone-washed denim.”
And, it seems, every family would be ethnically homogenous and heterosexual. Of course, easy divorce and other things that actually have an impact on marriage rates and stability would continue to be legal because the majority tends to keep things cozy for itself.
But, flippancy aside, it’s depressing to watch as people try to chip away at the fundamentals of representative democracy. I can only take some small comfort in knowing that no matter how feverishly they move the goalposts, in the end we’ll still win.