Friday, May 16, 2008

Gay Marriage & Republicanism:

One of the talking points of the wingnuts is America is a republic not a democracy. Although a few folks I respect have said such (notably Walter Williams), most folks who parrot this line don't know what they are talking about. America is and was founded to be a democracy, a liberal democracy in fact. "Democracy" simply means "voting" -- if there are legitimate elections, then there is "democracy." (If the elections are a sham, then it's a "banana republic" so to speak.) America's Constitution provides for elections, ergo America is a democracy. The term small l "liberal" simply means there are individual rights that majorities cannot abridge. So that's liberal democracy in a nutshell. Elections by the majority with individual rights that the majority cannot abridge.

Francis Fukuyama said something along the lines of we are all "liberal democrats" now. Meaning Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, almost all third parties (except those who want communism or theocracy) are "liberal democrats" (again, small l, small d), even Pat Robertson is a liberal democrat!

That said, the word "democracy" breaks down further. You could think of "democracy" as a genus with different species. One species of "democracy" is republicanism. Another species is direct democracy. The Framers of America's Constitution had strong distaste for the kind of "direct democracy" which they, correctly in my opinion, associated with mob rule. A majoritarian mob could vote away the rights (or the property!) of the minority. As such, America's Founders put many republican checks on majoritarianism and tended to call such a system "republicanism." That's the kernel of truth in the otherwise mindless mantra, the United States is a republic, not a democracy.

These republican checks include such things as 1) separation of powers, 2) elected representatives as opposed to the people themselves writing statutes, 3) sometimes having elite electors instead of the people themselves putting politicians into power (think of the Electoral College or "super delegates"), 4) limited enumerated powers of government, 5) judicial review, and 6) the notion of inalienable rights itself which means individual rights that majorities cannot abridge. This list is not exhaustive just illustrative.

One modern example of "direct democracy" or "mobocracy" which America's Founders would have hated (this is what they railed against, when they criticized "democracy" and lauded "republicanism") are BALLOT MEASURES, like those they have in California. Prop. 22 which tried to ban gay marriage is especially anti-republican because not only is it mobocracy, but it's the case of the majoritarian mob taking away rights from individuals or minority groups.

But it gets even worse for the anti-gay marriage forces. All of California's republican institutions seem to be in line with gay marriage. The legislature twice voted in gay marriage. This puts to rest the notion that the CA Sup. Court in the recent pro-gay marriage decision usurped the "role of the legislature." No, they were just enacting the legislature's will. That's two branches of California's republican government that support gay marriage. The Executive branch seems somewhat on the fence, but is arguably pro-gay marriage. The governor is certainly pro-gay rights. He vetoed the legislature's gay marriage bill ONLY because it conflicted with Prop. 22. And now that CA's top court has ruled their state constitution demands permitting same-sex marriage, the governor said he does NOT support amending said constitution via ballot referendum to overturn this decision. So arguably, all three branches of republican government support gay marriage in California. Everyone is in line except the mobocracy, which in 2000 voted 61.4 percent to 38.6 percent to ban gay marriage. And they've got a mechanism of "direct democracy" -- the ballot referendum -- which may permit them to overrule the court's recent decision. That's democracy trumping republicanism exactly as America's Founders would not have had it.

Remember folks we are a "republic" not a "democracy." And in California it means they ought to recognize gay marriage regardless of what the mobocracy thinks.

3 comments:

Tor Hershman said...

Speakin' of religion & law, ya gotz to view the YouTube film on moi's blog.

Did You Know? said...

we all know that gay marriage is bad... nice blog you have

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