Rights of the majority vs. minorities

A recent writer to the Times assured us that he knew evil when he saw it. It’s comforting to know there are stout citizens willing to warn us when evil reads its ugly head.

In the meantime I would like to pursue some history. Let us examine Jefferson’s optimistic and courageous lines: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable Rights …” They are noble, but they can’t be true. I’m not being cynical because it is just as well for our sakes that we recognize why they are not true. Consider the Ayatollahs of Iran. They hold certain truths to be self-evident, and they hold that they are ordained by their Creator to say what those right are and to spare their country from any deviation from them. The Communists in Russia, China, and Cuba held certain truths to be self-evident and claimed the right to say what those truths were. But we are not so fortunate. We do not have a quasi-religious body endowed with the right to say what our self-evident truths are.

So who is to decide what our self-evident truths are? We are a Democracy. It is the people collectively who decide what our self-evident truths are. Anything else is tyranny.

We are being told that homosexuals must have the right to marry the partners of their choice because it is their civil right. I guess that is one of those self-evident truths Jefferson was writing about. But if so, it must have been a self-evident truth to him, and yet he writes nothing about it. What are we to conclude from that? There is only one thing we can conclude: that Thomas Jefferson was a homophobic bigot. Or else the right of someone to marry the same-sex partner of his or her choice is not a civil right until whatever authority grants civil rights grants it.

This is where Christians who cite the Bible make a big mistake. By making such an issue of marriage as between a man and a woman, they make it sound like a sectarian oddity like not eating blood, or circumcision, or not working on the Sabbath. But in fact marriage as a contract between a man and a woman is far older than Christianity. There is not one culture of whatever religion that sanctioned same-sex marriage for four thousand years of recorded history.

Thomas Jefferson never counted same-sex marriage as a civil right, because it never occurred to him, and he certainly was one who favored logic over religious doctrine. In fact no one seriously thought same-sex marriage was a civil right until little more than 20 years ago. So how did it get to be a self-evident civil right?

The author of the essay makes some pretty wild assertions on other topics, He writes: “‘Evil’ exists when some of these same individuals support Draconian laws that actually that actually endanger women’s lives by inhibiting their access to proper health care and reproductive choices.” They do no such thing. If the courts had not interfered and left the state legislatures to work out the issue, the would have solved it long ago by democratic compromise and it would not be a festering sore so many decades later.

Another quote: “‘Evil’ defines the actions and words of bigoted individuals (again using ‘religion’ as their excuse) who want to treat LGTB persons…as second-class citizens.” This is sort of the new witch-hunt. I don’t know of anyone who wants to treat LGBT personal as second-class citizens, but apparently our writer does, and every argument in favor of gay marriage can’t resist adding something about persecution of LGTB’s.

And of course no article of this sort can be complete without a reference to the persecution of the Cathars. Frankly I refuse to take responsibility for the persecution of the Cathars.

As for me, I am a small-d democrat. And as a small-d democrat, I have a right and a sacred obligation. My right is to believe anything I wish and to express that belief. And if I believe that LGBT people are second class citizens, that is my right. (Of course, you have the same right to believe I am a bigoted SOB.) And my sacred obligation is to believe that the sole arbiter of what is right for all of us collectively is the corporate will of the people expressed through the democratic process by referendum or by legislation. And this has to be absolute and unconditional, because anything less is tyranny.

I have friends who argue, “But a legislature can’t be allowed to do just anything. What if they vote to reinstate slavery?” My answer is, “What if they did?” The evil of slavery was not that the institution existed but that slaves were denied the vote. And before you conjure up images of slaves in ankle irons being driven to the poles to vote as massa instructs, stop and think more intelligently. In the first place, slave-owners could not dare to open up areas of large plantations where slaves were in the majority, because the slaves would obviously vote to abolish slavery. And anywhere where slaves were more than an insignificant minority, factions would be forced to court their vote and their good will to gain their support for controversial issues. And if you don’t believe me, just notice how the immigration bill is faring.

The great tragedy of the Civil Rights Era is that the reformers started with school desegregation and not the vote. The states had a perfect right to segregated schools if they wanted them. What was wrong with segregated schools was that the objects of segregation did not have the vote to get themselves their fair share. But the right to vote was and is enshrined in the Constitution, and should have been enforced long before. Desegregation of schools was pretty much a failure until blacks got the vote. Now we have a new era of political cooperation because of the vote. I don’t say it’s perfect, but it is good enough to be effective.

Yes, there are evil people in the world, and I recognize them when they stand up and cheer when their Ayatollahs announce the overturning of a law they don’t like. Unfortunately our American Ayatollahs have developed a taste for striking down legitimately enacted laws they don’t like and inventing laws they do. Most of you are probably too young to remember that the people in their wisdom refused to enact the Equal Rights Amendment. But the Ayatollahs discovered that they didn’t need one because it was already enshrined in the 14th Amendment. Since women in South Carolina were equally represented in the electorate, it was none of the Ayatollas’ business if South Carolina wanted an all-male military institute. And the people of California had a perfect right to overturn The courts interference with the people’s determination of what constitutes marriage.

One is not evil if one opposes same-sex marriage, for there are all kinds of reasons to doing so, but it is evil to insist that the rights of a minority trump the democratic will of the people.

Richard Davis lives in Marietta.