Monday, June 23, 2008

Gay Marriage and Popular Sovereignty

At 5:01 on June 16th, gay marriage became legal in California. If you check out some pictures, they're adorable and the first couple to legal marry are Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, both in their 80's, who have been together for 50+ years (pictures of those two are just soooo cute in their old lady-ness).

Elsewhere I've discussed the legality of the case - because other cases have ruled the right to marry an inherent civil right and because sexual orientation is protected under the equal protection clause, it's unconsitutional to limit marriage between two people based on gender and sexual orientation.

However, citizens in California and elsewhere are trying to circumvent the court's ruling by gathering signatures to get a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on the ballet in November. "It's the will of the people!" they cry, hoping to sway opinion and rule through that argument.

Marriage equality activists say that denying gay people the right to marry creates a group of second-class citizens who are discriminated against through laws and practice. It's an inherent right that two people, regardless of gender, should be able to marry (and this is an argument the CA Supreme Court agrees with in their May 15, 2008 decision on In re: Marriage Cases - the CA Supreme Court decided people should be able to marry regardless of race in 1948 in Perez v. Sharp and the SCOTUS made it federal in 1967 with Loving v. Viriginia).

We've heard these two arguments before - or at least the history of the United States has, not anyone alive today. These are almost exactly the same positions Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas took on slavery in the 1858 Illinois Senate race and then again in the 1860 Presidential race.

For several years, Douglas was the champion of popular sovereignty, or popular rule - the concept that people should be able to decide what's best for their state/territory. Lincoln agreed with popular sovereignty, or at least up to a certain degree, like when popular opinion tread on a cause that wasn't moral. For Lincoln, slavery was immoral and violated the natural rights of Black people.

In seven different debates held throughout Illinois (including one at the fine institution of Knox College, where Amelia and Kate currently attend), Douglas and Lincoln verbally sparred back and forth over popular sovereignty and the morality of slavery. Douglas and Lincoln were debating the merits of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise (the Compromise contained new slave territories to beneath the southern border of Missouri, with Missouri as the exception). Kansas-Nebraska stated that the rule of the people should decide if a new territory was to be slave or free, designed by Douglas and popular sovereignty. Other things complicated the debate as well, such as the Dred Scott SCOTUS ruling and Douglas' race-baiting of Lincoln (that's another story for another time). The debates were incredibly popular all over Illinois and they were published in various Chicago newspapers and newspapers all over the nation.

Douglas won the 1858 Illinois Senate race, however, Douglas and Lincoln faced each other again two years later on a much wider stage - this time for the President of the United States. They reiterated much of the positions and arguments throughout the 1860 race, and that time, Lincoln won.

This isn't the first time US politics has heard the popular will/natural rights debate, and it won't be the last time. However, we can make sure that the voices speaking for the expansion of rights are heard as opposed to the voices trying to limit rights. The Constitution and Bill of Rights wasn't created to close off freedoms - it was crafted so to explicitly say, "These are the specific rights that cannot be taken away from us and that goes for any other rights as deemed necessary in the future" - the right to vote based not on gender or race, for example. I believe the right to marry falls under this category as well, and the CA Supreme Court agrees with me.

So next time you hear someone say, "The people don't want gay marriage! We should follow the popular opinion of the people!" remember that this argument has been tried before and when it comes down to inherent rights, it's not going to work.

This post was influenced by Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America.


The Great American said...

Slavery: Slaves were property of an owner, forced to work fields from sun up to sun down no matter the weather, they were often beatin and sometimes killed, they lived crammed together in not much more than a dung hut, they couldn't marry, they couldn't vote, they weren't citizens, they were leaglly recognized as only three-fifths of a person.

Now I am all for the will of the people, but Lincoln and Douglas were debating Popular Sovreignty in regards to slavery. You act like gay people are being treated less than human. Actually take a look at slavery and there you will see people being treated less than human. Slavery is a human rights issue, sorry to tell you, gay marriage is not. Maybe I'll change my opinion the day that gays are being treated like slaves were, but until then...

Lindsay said...

Thanks, but I know what slavery is. The point I'm trying to make is that some of the arguments used for and against gay marriage are similar to the basic claims by Lincoln and Douglas in their 1858 Illinois Senate debates.

Maybe I'll change my opinion the day that gays are being treated like slaves were, but until then...

Gay people aren't treated like slaves, but legislating against the rights of people is dehumanizing. It denies the right to be recognized as committed to another person in a loving relationship, regardless of gender.

Amelia said...

Thanks, Lindsay, for beating me to responding to that comment.

The Great American said...

I'm still going to have to disagree with your comparison of Licnoln/Douglas to the current issue at hand.

Look, if homosexuals want to be in a loving and committed relationship with each other, who am I to stop it, and if they are so in love with each other, why do they need the government to tell them so? But when they want to commit to each other in a marriage, that's what I have a problem with. There is no argument you can give me that can convince me otherwise. Because to me, homosexuality is a choice and a sin.

Lindsay said...

I do think you should read more about the debates - it's interesting as it is, plus I really think there's at least some level of comparison between the arguments then and now. Guelzo's book is just over 300 pages, but it's easy to read plus he does an impeccable job of putting the debates in their social and political context - then again, I'm not a historian so how do I know if he's not just making stuff up?

Look, if homosexuals want to be in a loving and committed relationship with each other, who am I to stop it, and if they are so in love with each other, why do they need the government to tell them so? But when they want to commit to each other in a marriage, that's what I have a problem with.

There's a difference between opposite sex couples who are married and who aren't - even those who happen to be in a long relationship. There's a huge difference between saying "this is my wife" and "this is my girlfriend," regardless of the gender of the speaker. Marriage carries an implicit social acknowledgment and respect of the union, something that can't be gained simply through being in a relationship for x years.

Besides the social recognition of marriage, there are legal benefits that come along with being recognized as married by the state. Now in some states, civil unions offer most, if not all, of the same legal benefits of getting married. So isn't that good enough? Not in my opinion, and not in the opinion of people who agree with "separate but equal is not equal" (Brown v. Board of Education). If marriage and civil unions have the same legal benefits, but marriage is more socially respectable, then they're not equal and should not be separate.

The Great American said...

See, your argument to me still does not hold up. The court rulings and precedents you keep bringing up all refer to race. Race is something born with, you cannot choose your skin color, however, I feel that to be gay is a choice.

Amelia said...

And I would like to point out, TGA, that you continue to point out that you feel that being gay is a choice. You do not have definitive proof that it is a choice. It is just your feeling.

So how can you be so sure it's not something you're born with, like race?

The Great American said...

Well, I come at it from a Biblical perspective. Since, from a biblical perspective, homosexuality is a sin God would not create someone to be homosexual. But primarily, it's the act of homosexuality that is wrong, people my be born with certain emotions, but the problem is whether or not they choose to act on those emotions. People with these emotions are not forced into relationships with people of the same-sex, are they? No, they CHOOSE to be in a same-sex relationship, which is truly the sin here. You probably don't think homosexuality is a sin, but I'm just simply explaing the reasoning for my stance on the issue.

And just for the record,the people who claim to be Christians and then hold up signs that say crap like, "God Hates Fags" are a very, very, very small minority and they do not represent the mainstream, evangelical church. They are usually very leaglistic (no dancing, no movies, etc.) and fundmentalist (sing only hymns, women wear only dresses, King James Version of the Bible only). Just thought I'd say that to clear up any misconceptions.

Lindsay said...

TGA, when did you choose to be heterosexual? Did you have any childhood experiences that would turn you heterosexual? Do you think being straight is just something you'll grow out of?

Lindsay said...

Just today at Slate.

The Great American said...

Well, I guess I don't really understand your rationale behind the questions(I'm assuming they are loaded questions), but since you asked: I've been heterosexual from birth until the present. I've been in heterosexual relationships since I started dating (then or since about 5 years old when i kissed little Danielle). I hate to answer a question with a question, but why would I think i would just "grow out" of being straight?

But, I think you may have missed my point. There are certain lifestyles you can lead; Hetero, homo, or bisexual, but only one honors God. And that is heterosexuality. We are all born with different feelings, but it's how you act on those feelings is what matters.

daedalus2u said...

To me, the legal basis for gay marriage derives from universal human rights. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

Article 16.
(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Two gay adults have as much right to found a family as any other two adults. The only way for non-fertile adults to found a family is through marriage. Fetility has never been a required precondition for heterosexual marriage, it shouldn't be for gay marriage either.

TGA, if you don't think gay marriage is appropriate, don't have one. Problem solved.

The Great American said...


I harvest my values and beliefs from the Word(s) of God. And the Bible preaches otherwise. I don't harvest my beliefs from the UN because I think they are worthless and do far more harm than good. Gay marriage is not appropraite and it is also a sin in God's eyes, therefore i'm not going to sit back and let some judges legislate such absurd crap that perpetuates sin. Especially, when the people of California had chosen otherwise...So much for 'We The People', eh?

Amelia said...

I've been watching this thread unfold with relatively no desire to join in.

Let me say, Great American, that arguing from the standpoint of "the word of God" is in no way persuasive to me. If that is all you have to go on, that's fine. You are entitled to your opinion. But I highly doubt you are going to change anyone's mind about why gay marriage is so wrong in your opinion if that's the place you're coming from. You can't convince people you're right if they don't believe the same things you believe, so perhaps this thread might want to take a new direction?

The Great American said...


I understand what your saying. But it certainly goes both ways. However, I respect people more when they stick to their guns and don't waver. I was asked, by you I might add, about how 'I can be so sure homosexuality is not something you're born with' I simply gave you my answer and how I arrived at my conclusion. I don't come here expecting to change your mind. The 'Female Imposter' contributers are clearly passionate about their views and i am very passionate about mine. And by frequenting to this blog my only hope is to enjoy some kind-hearted political banter. So if i don't change somebody's mind, that is fine with me. So if my debating comes off as badgering, I apologize. But my political views derive from my religious beliefs and its hard for me to defend the former without including the later. Sorry.

Amelia said...

TGA, I would definitely not say you were badgering. I was just pointing out that this is probably one of those debates that could go on forever because of the very different places people are coming from.

Just want to make that clear, because I enjoy having your voice on this blog. You dissent, but are respectful.

Lindsay said...

When it comes to legislating, our nation doesn't have an established state religion. Because of that, opposition to legalized gay marriage based on religious reasons seems faulty. Maybe my religion believes that no one should be allowed to own pets, but since my religion is mine and mine alone - not the state's - I don't think I can reasonable expect the government to legislate to my religious preferences.

Also, I personally believe the homosexuality talked about in the bible isn't comparable socially to homosexuality as we know it today. Also, I find the verses regarding homosexuality (especially in Leviticus) are surrounded by other verses that are commonly ignored as social laws of the time, but you don't see religious leaders trying to uphold those by railing against wearing clothes made from mixed materials these days.

The Great American said...

Romans 1:26-27