The biggest selling point of tyranny is its efficiency. Punishing dissent with death has a way of cutting back on all those nasty protests and boycotts. Freedom, on the other hand, is a messy business. The aftermath of the Nov. 4 election — and specifically the reaction to the passing of Proposition 8 in California (constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage) — highlights the beauty and the challenges of our system.
California is a strange and wonderful place. We are a mixture of a republic and a democracy, a marvelously forward-thinking and liberal state that at the same time repeatedly passes conservative ballot initiatives. We fight hard to elect our representatives in Sacramento and work equally hard to circumvent them with a growing number of ballot initiatives. We are governed by a mixture of often conflicting local, state and federal laws, ballot propositions and initiatives, court rulings, appeals and reversals.
When Proposition 8 passed, that was the end of the story for the 52 percent of Californians who voted yes. It was an expensive, hard-fought battle and, with some notable exceptions on both sides, honorably fought.
The winners’ argument that this should be over is simple and powerful. Prop 8 confirms what California voters already had passed in 2000 with Proposition 22: We do not support same-sex marriage. The majority has spoken, Gavin Newsom (mayor of San Francisco and aspiring governor) was wrong when he allowed same-sex marriages in 2004 and the California Supreme Court was wrong in May when it overturned the same-sex marriage ban. It is time to accept this reality, and we need to move on to other issues and subjects.
But slow down, say the 48 percent who voted no on Prop 8. This is not over yet. Yes, Prop 8 confirmed Prop 22, but by a much smaller margin than in 2000. More than 60 percent supported Prop 22, and only 52 percent supported Prop 8.
The percentage of those who voted no jumped from 38 percent in 2000 to 48 percent in 2008. If the majority is going to rule, we think the majority will vote our way next time — and there will be a next time.
For those who say, “Twice is enough, accept reality and move on,” let’s talk about Proposition 4 (parental notification before terminating a pregnancy), which was supported by many of the very same religious conservatives and organizations who supported Prop 8. Prop 4 was defeated, and those who support parental notification not only lost this time, but they also lost in 2005 with Prop 73 and in 2006 with Prop 85.
It’s clear that neither side really believes in “majority rules” — unless, of course, the majority votes their way. Those who believe that abortion is murder have the right to continue fighting and will not give up the battle, and neither will those who believe Prop 8 codified bigotry. Both sides will apply economic pressure, fight their battle in the legislature, the courts and at the ballot box — doing whatever they think is necessary to win a battle they believe is critical to the health and well being of this state. And so the real beauty of our terribly messy system is now in full display, at marches, protests and boycotts throughout the state.
Regardless of your views on abortion and same-sex marriage, the battles being fought are a beautiful thing to watch. The participants are passionate, angry, vocal, forceful, well-financed and convinced that they are right while their opponents are wrong.
The magic of America and of California was in full evidence the night before the election when I stood on street corners crowded with Yes on 8 and No on 8 activists. Yes, a few signs were defaced, a couple of ignorant cowards hurled epithets or water as they drove by, but on the whole, the participants were respectful: mingling, talking, arguing — participating. As passionate as the participants were (and are), this battle was still fought with signs, ads and mailers, and was decided (at least temporarily) at the ballot box.
We all need to slow down for a moment and remember how special and unique a violence-free election is. Yes, the process is messy, expensive and frustrating for all involved. But it is beautiful and uplifting, and represents the best we have to offer. Regardless of which way you voted, please take a moment and give thanks to the beautiful messy process that is America.
Scott Harris is a political commentator. Read his columns and contact him through his Web site, www.scottharris.biz, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.