Democracy is a risk

T.A. Barnhart

Democracy is a risk

Utah now allows all people to marry because, you know, democracy.

So I’m watching this doofus from the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) argue against marriage equality on the grounds that people in various states voted against marriage equality (on Up with Steve Kornacki, Sunday morning). And I had this thought:

Rape is not a federal crime; it’s a state-level crime. Each state criminalizes rape, defines degrees of rapiness, sets punishments, etc. So it is possible, albeit unlikely (in most states) that the citizens or legislature of a state could vote to legalize rape. Let’s call it the “Defense of Natural Male Sexual Prowess Act”.

And 67% of the voters pass the DMNSPA into law.

Are those voters correct? The law is limited: only non-married adult women can be raped, and they cannot be injured during the act (ie, stabbed, shot, punched). They can’t be kidnapped. Etc etc; lots of protections so that men can act on their natural impulses and society can move along peacefully and in accordance with the laws of nature.

When the judge throws out that law, is he or she wrong in over-turning “the will of the voters”? This is what the doofus from NOM is arguing: because the homophobic voters of Utah chose to codify their religious intolerance into law, that’s good enough under the U.S. Constitution. He is, of course, full of hooey.

Democracy is a tricky activity. In deciding that “the people” rule a country and not god, or a king, or a small coven of the wealthy and powerful, we open the door to the fears, the ignorance, the prejudices, and the other human failings of human beings to be the basis of the rules “the people” pass into law. In other words, democracy lets us get things wrong. A lot.

Slavery was placed into the Constitution and the vote for women denied in a democratic process.

The bigots in NOM and the Tea Party and much of the GOP Congress hate, with a burning passion, the fact of democracy. Now and then, as with the passing of state-level DOMAs or the 2010 elections, they make democracy noises because they win. When the results don’t go their way, however, they look to non-democratic means to win. Like gerrymandering, voter suppression, and corporate funding of specialized laws (ALEC).

Essential to democracy is a constitution that separates powers and forces government to work through processes that, done right, extracts the stuff we do wrong and drives us towards justice. How the hell do you think we went from 1789 to the level of civil liberties we enjoy today? Yes, those rights are under attack, but they freaking exist! Democracy and a constitution continues to force our country to bend, as Dr King said “the arc of the moral universe … towards justice”.

The vote of the majority of an electorate on any particular matter is not democracy; it’s a political act that is one element of democracy. Whatever your beliefs on particular issues, if you believe in democracy, you have to accept the whole magilla and not the little bits you agree with. Democracy requires that everyone accept the possibility, and then the fact, of losing.

NOM does not believe in democracy. The Tea Party, for the most part, hates democracy. Libertarians are superior beings with no need for democracy. The Republican Party is paid to manipulate political processes to prevent democratic outcomes (they can’t even speak the word “democratic”). Ideological voters who lose a particular election really don’t like democracy.

Democracy is a risk, but it’s not a zero-sum game, and it has no end point. Democracy rolls forward, day after day. Despair is the biggest folly under democracy; as Abigail Scott Duniway proved in her 41-year fight for women’s suffrage, if you lose today but get up tomorrow and keep on fighting, you have a chance to win next time.

Even when you’re wrong.

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