Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Cure the California Disease
Yesterday's California high court decision affecting marriage equality was not based on marriage equality. Instead, it zoomed down to narrow points of law. It also illustrates clearly that it is past time to overhaul the badly broken ballot initiative system there and elsewhere.
Let's return to those thrilling days of 2006, at least thrilling to me. Then and here I called for such an overhaul of this flamethrower of populism.
In the half of the states, including Massachusetts, that allow such plebiscites, they often are badly abused. California's system is the loosest and they suffer the most. Perhaps most obviously is the ability of voters to force unfunded mandates on the whole state as well as cutting revenue sources like taxes without compensating budget changes. Much of California's economic disaster was many years in the making from just such mass stupidities.
In the recent decade, we have seen more and more anti-gay and anti-marriage equality groups try to conceal their bigoted let-the-people-vote petitions to prevent or wrest from homosexuals getting rights the rest of us take for granted. The claim that they are not haters because they say they aren't doesn't hold in light of their bigoted actions. A wolverine pretending to be a cuddly kitten is still a wild beast.
We need to revisit two related ideas. First, large governmental units like states are not town meetings and must not be treated as such. We have representative democracy in the forms of elected legislatures to ensure that laws are based on knowing the consequences and understanding in full. Running around them for the emotionally based result is simply bad or terrible government.
Second, we don't necessarily have to scrap ballot initiatives entirely. However, most states enabled these during the Progressive Era, largely in the early 20th Century. There have been minor improvements and seeing the political and economic abuses recently, there need be more. The most obvious would be to make clearer exemptions for what is subject to popular vote.
Yes, keep the safeguard for the once-in-a-century crazy mistake by the legislature out of their many thousands of laws. However, exempt minority groups rights very clearly. Likewise, even in Massachusetts, which has pretty sensible initiative procedures, we can use a tweak. Make the rule about what would constitute an effort to overturn a court decision stronger and clearer. Don't allow haters to wheedle and sneak in with ballot poison.
Equality California is going to be busy planning a 2010 or 2012 initiative to restore SSM there. They may also have a second front if couples challenge the surely unconstitutional aftermath of Prop. 8 and yesterday's decision. That would be three-class set of marriages — heterosexual couple, homosexual couples grandfathered in, and homosexual couples forbidden to marry.
The drive for prophylaxis against such madness should then come through the legislature. They do the same for other areas of law that need repair and cure.
Tags: massmarrier, ballot initiatives, California, Prop. 8