Not Cheering Over Here

Published 22, Nov, 2012

Ken Monteith like the recent gains in same sex marriage status in some states in the USA, but the process leaves him cold. “Human rights protection is not something that you submit to a popular vote” he says.

Not Cheering Over Here

To many, it must seem like the recent US elections were a great victory for the LGBT community. Not only did they bring a victory for Obama, responsible for removing a number of impediments to equality, albeit after a great deal of pushing by the community, but also a number of remarkable victories for other openly gay or lesbian candidates. 

Your mind might have gone directly to the marriage votes when I brought up those elections. Maine voters decided to allow the state to issue marriage licences to same sex couples and voters in Maryland and Washington voted to approve legislations allowing same sex couples to marry that had been passed by their respective legislatures and then challenged by referendum. In Minnesota, the victory was a defeat of a proposed amendment of the state constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. 

I'm certainly not against any of those outcomes, but the processes leave me cold. 

Human rights protection is not something that you submit to a popular vote. That is the very antithesis of the protection of minorities — submitting those protections to the will of the majority. In my opinion, the best measure of how successful human rights protections are lies in their capacity to protect the rights of the most despised minorities, not those who have been able to make themselves marginally more acceptable to a bare majority of the population or raise enough money to fight extreme electoral battles that may come around again when next they can. 

How much do these four victories — or three victories and a reprieve — contribute to the marriage equality fight in the other states? Do they make it inevitable or have they set up the population for another what…41?...battles that will cost millions and whose outcomes will be far from certain? With this approach, some states with poorer LGBT communities or stauncher opponents may never extend the same protections and rights to all. It might not take long for those who have fought their own hard won battles to lose interest in contributing to and fighting for others to benefit from what they already have. 

And what about minorities who have not managed to convince a majority of voters that they are worthy of protection? If you read any of the comments on any news sites after the recent Supreme Court of Canada decisions on the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure, you can well imagine how people with HIV might fare in such a popularity contest (not very well, if you need me to spell it out). 

So yes, let's all celebrate the election of legislators and executives who are willing to stand on the side of protecting the civil rights of minorities. But don't expect me to stand up and cheer for a victory in a process that should never have taken place to submit the rights of a minority — even an apparently well-liked minority, at least for the moment — to the will of the majority. Accepting the validity of that process sells the rest of us down the river.