Equality Over Democracy

by Phoebe C. Godfrey
Originally published in Neighbors, A Little Paper Big on Community

"A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine."
~ Thomas Jefferson (attributed but not verified)

There is a common misconception among many to see democracy and equality as synonymous and to believe that if democracy, either direct or representative, is put into practice then by default so will equality. Yet if you look back over this nation's history nothing is further from the truth in that the practice of our representative democracy has most often been to support the interests of the white male minority elite with the manipulated backing of the white male and later female majority masses in opposition to the racialized minority. To be more specific take for example desegregation. Desegregation occurred because the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown vrs. The Board of Education forced it upon the white majority not in the name of democracy but in the name of equality as stipulated under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. At no point in the segregated south did the white minority elite and their white majority masses desire such a ruling. Furthermore, had they been allowed to vote on it directly after Brown was passed as an exercise in democracy, I can assure you that desegregation would never have happened. In fact we may have seen the creation of state and even federal constitutional amendments declaring that American society should be made up of the separation of one white race and one black race, just as the good Lord intended it to be.

A few weeks ago the Connecticut Supreme Court made a similar ruling to that of Brown in that same-sex couples have been given the equal right to marriage and all the emotional, social and economic benefits that are included. And once again this ruling was not an exercise in democracy but rather one in equality and was that was based on California's preceding same-sex marriage ruling. This ruling recognized gays and lesbians as a "suspect class" meaning they are a group who "has been subjected to invidious and prejudicial treatment because of a distinguishing characteristic that bears no relation to the individual's ability to perform or contribute to society." In other words, gays and lesbians in not having equal marriage rights have not been given 'equal protection under the law.' However, in both California and in our own state there is a backlash that is using the claims to majority rule, hence democracy, as an argument to reverse both these rulings through a constitutional convention here and Proposition 8 in California. Change takes time and it is always right after one that resistance peaks especially if there is the slightest indication that the change in not binding.

So when Gov. Jodi Rell said in relation to the constitution convention that, "I believe that people should have the right to petition their government," I agree in principal but in this case not in practice. Yes, it would be nice to be able to petition our state government directly on issues that should concern us such as opposing the on-going occupation of Iraq, addressing the levels of child poverty in all of our cities, acknowledging climate change (according to Al Gore's calculations much of CT will be under water), preventing budget cutting in our state universities, …etc. Yet I am not convinced these are the salient issues my fellow state residents have in mind. In fact, a quick glance at the web sites that came up when I googled the issue show that many see the constitutional convention as a way for citizens to address concerns with same-sex marriage, immigration, a three strikes law and to quote "much much more!" Hence, the typical racist, bigoted, and small-minded issues that are based on limiting rights for others in a manner that is so hypocritically, hence ironically, self-righteous. One that is titled 'Connecticut Constitutional Convention Campaign' affirms that it is time to "let the people decide!" And who might these 'people' be? The straight white majority by chance? And in relation to same-sex marriage are we really expected to believe they will vote to protect the interests and rights of the gay and lesbian minority? Have those with the power ever conceded it in any way except by struggle in the streets and ultimately in the courts? The answer is a resounding, No.

So even though Rell said, "I don't think we want to change our constitution to ban same-sex marriage," I do not agree with her assumption that there would not be enough support to overturn the court's ruling if such a question ever did receive a statewide vote. For even though the Hartford Courant poll has 53% of CT residents supporting the same-sex marriage ruling this does not mean that if there is Constitutional Convention and if the question of same-sex marriage is on the ballot that the 53% majority in favor will show up and vote. Personally, I'd rather not take that chance because I have a wedding to plan and I have been told by my married straight friends that once you put down your deposit for all the fan fare of a wedding there is no turning back. Meaning there is no refund which if the cause is your spouse to be then that would be the least of your worries but if the cause is your fellow state residents then, lets just say you have been warned. Because for me the issue comes down to the slogan I have on a favorite t-shirt of mine: "Against gay marriage? Don't marry one!"

With that said, my wife to be and I hope to see you soon on the steps of city hall. And don't forget to bring your rainbow confetti so we can celebrate equality over democracy! Phoebe Godfrey is co-chair of the CT Green Party.

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