Too Much Democracy

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After she vetoed a civil unions bill passed overwhelmingly by the Hawaii legislature, this is what the first Jewish female Republican governor of the Aloha State had to say: "It would be a mistake to allow a decision of this magnitude to be made by...a small group of elected officials...[I]t deserves to be decided directly by all the people of Hawaii."

Sound familiar? "Let the people decide" has become the favored mantra of social conservatives eager to kill even second-class status for same-sex couples. Never mind that in 1998 the people of Hawaii approved an amendment to their constitution giving the legislature the authority to define marriage. "Let the people decide" sounds so darn democratic, with a very small "d."

Must be because that worked out so well for Jewish Americans during the first half of the 20th Century, when many faced college enrollment quotas, job discrimination and housing restrictions, while public opinion polls showed the shameful truth that most Americans viewed Jews as greedy, dishonest and way too powerful. So maybe "let the people decide" worked out better for African-Americans or even interracial couples? Not really. It took the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn interracial marriage bans in 1967, and as recently as 1994 less than half of Americans approved of marriages between blacks and whites. Still, "let the people decide" sounds so darn democratic, with a very small "d."

And so it was that earlier this month, the Pentagon surveyed over 400,000 troops on how they would react if  the don't ask, don't tell policy were lifted and they had to share bathrooms or open-bay showers in a war zone with other service members believed to be gay or lesbian. Just one question comes to mind. Can you imagine President "give 'em hell" Harry Truman polling the troops on the desirability of black and white soldiers sharing housing before honoring his constitutional duty and ordering the racial integration of the armed forces?

I'm sure he would have said it sounds so darn democratic, with a very small "d."


With a Perspective, I'm Clyde Wadsworth.