For the last week, I have been reading the numerous angry responses to the recent passage of Proposition 8 in California, and I am frankly amused at how misdirected much of the anger has been. It is not that there are not serious issues involved, for I would never deign to insult either side by denying this; it is merely that I question the wisdom of those who have directed their anger solely toward institutions or groups who voted in favor of Proposition 8. Rather than expressing their anger toward those who have voted according to their convictions, which is only natural and to be expected in a democratic system, perhaps they should question the wisdom of the ballot initiative system itself.
California has long prided itself on its inclusion of elements of direct democracy in its legislative process and recent electoral results have demonstrated why it has little reason to do so. By permitting direct participation of the people in the making of laws and amendments, California has succeeded only in subjecting the minority to the prejudices and passions of the majority. Prudence demands that the civil liberties and natural rights of the few should never be placed upon the altar of popular opinion to be sacrificed to the fleeting passions of the many. Those who support the ballot initiative system should consider what would have been the result had the civil liberties of African Americans in the 1960s been subjected solely to popular opinion? Would the religious liberties of Mormons today be secure if the tolerance under which their faith has thrived was suddenly subjected to approval by national referendum?
Emotional issues such as the nature of marriage are better confined to the halls of our elected representatives who are more insulated from the passions of the majority. Those who voted in opposition to Proposition 8 should carefully consider whether their interests would have not have been better served if the issue had been confined to the halls of the California state legislature. The rights of same-sex couples were repeatedly and incrementally expanded as long as the debate remained confined to the state legislature. It is not unreasonable to assume that those rights would have eventually included marriage, as well.
Then what is the solution? Is it a massive effort to merely repeal Proposition 8 while leaving the political mechanism intact that made Proposition 8 possible? Dissatisfaction and anger are more appropriately directed toward the ballot initiative system itself, which is what allowed the passions of the majority to be written into the state constitution in the first place. Recent efforts to repeal Proposition 8 are better expended towards the adoption of a new California constitution, one that would not only exclude Proposition 8 but one that would abolish the ballot initiative system itself and leave such issues to be debated by elected representatives. Only by the adoption of a new constitution can minorities be protected from the unjust application of ballot initiatives.
It is time that California adheres to the political wisdom of the founders of our nation and for Californians to realize the ballot initiative system can do far more damage than good to our cherished freedoms. Our rights and civil liberties should never be placed at the mercy of a popular vote. Then why do we continue to tolerate a system that allows just that?