Thursday, January 20, 2011

Latest Whining by Anti-SSM Forces

Those who truly hate representative democracy have a tough time nowadays. Consider the sputtering and calls for their own political resurrection this week. The cause? The SCOTUS refused to overrule the D.C. Council on same-sex marriage.

The high court ruled these are local issues, making it all sound like states rights to govern where the feds have not reserved powers. The justices didn't even discuss the gay marriage thing underlying it.

An excellent background piece in Bay Windows traces the limited self-governance for the District. Key factors include that even though Congress has jurisdiction over D.C., the District has had some powers since enabling legislation dating to its 1973 charter. It can make its own local laws and regulations, as it did with its Human Rights Act. It can decide as states can which of its citizens can legally marry, as it did in 2009. It can deny a ballot initiative that would legalize discrimination forbidden in its rights act, as it did when a group of fundy ministers tried to overturn SSM. The latter position got the support of the District's high court, which is how its appeal slithered into the SCOTUS.

Not surprisingly, the supporters of this attempt are the two usual suspects, the Alliance Defense Fund and the National Organization for Marriage. The former did the legal work pro bono, as it does with virtually any such anti-gay/anti-SSM effort.

Also as usual, this pair failed in the legislature and failed in the courts. In the end, the pull out the old let-the-people-vote weapon. Unfortunately for this pair, they doubled up in D.C., simultaneously knocking themselves out in both court and a shot at a plebiscite.

Public votes on fundamental policy have their places. At their worst is mob rule, impassioned and often reckless. As bad is the California flavor of ballot initiative, the nation's worst among the half the states that have some form of this; out there, unfunded mandates, unsound laws, and overt discrimination can all get before voters and on the books far too easily. The sleepier version is still common in New England town meeting, which works in small municipalities.

In the larger and I would say more real world, representative democracy is how we advance and maintain our government and civilization. Minimizing emotion and deceit and maximizing knowledge and reasoned debate generally serve us well. Various levels of city, state and national government still make mistakes, but the current hyperbole from the let-the-people-vote types aside, elected officials accountable for what they do have proven superior to forms of mob rule from the beginning of this country.

You needn't wonder how NOM and ADF took this week's ruling. Read all about it here and here.

The pair of joint statements had their best summary with "We are by no means done pressing this issue," from NOM President Brian Brown. The heading of the statement portrayed the District's SSM vote not as expanding civil rights but as destroying marriage, as in NOM "PLEDGES CONTINUED PUSH TO RESTORE MARRIAGE IN DC." Likewise, the ADF has its own (disenfranchised voters) spin and its Senior Legal Counsel Austin R. Nimocks sounds the vague, "We will remain diligent in looking for other legal opportunities to protect and defend the right of all D.C. residents to have their voices heard as the D.C. Charter clearly intended."

While having lost the effort to force a plebiscite all the way to the SCOTUS, it's unclear what they might do in poor little D.C. Yet, it appears that no SSM or similar marriage equality victory is truly permanent. The plug nasties are still grumbling about yet another go at a ballot initiative in MA. Up a state in NH, they are making repeal noises in the legislature. I predict that when Rhode Island finally passes SSM, which it may well this year, the anti-marriage equality jackals will descend there as well.

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