October 13, 2004
Endorsement: No On Measure 36
Keep The Righteous Wing Out Of Oregon's Constitution
One of the many ironies in the fight over Measure 36 is that while the Special Rights for Heterosexuals Coalition made much hay over what they saw as an abuse of process by Multnomah County (a matter into which we'll delve more deeply later in this item), their preferred method of advancing their agenda is to abuse the Oregon Constitution.
Even if, for the sake of argument, we were to concede their point about the County (a point which readers know we do not, in fact, concede), we can't help but wonder if anyone notices that their "response" (which it isn't, since changing the Oregon Constitution was on their agenda prior to the events in Multnomah County) is an exponentially worse offense against democratic propriety.
While the anti-marriage crowd certainly is correct that a democratic system is about the voice of the people, they conveniently ignore that the other part of that system consists of constitutional structures intended to protect the minority from the tyrrany of majority opinion. Measure 36 up-ends this central principles by creating an implicit exception to the prohibition against discriminatory granting of privileges and immunities contained within Article I, Section 20, of the Oregon Constitution.
This disdain for the structures of constitutional government should come as a suprise to absolutely no one, of course. If you've been paying attention to the rhetoric oozing from the pores of the righteous wing, you've seen that it's simply part of who they are. It's a central aspect of how they operate.
It's revealed just as clearly in their criticisms of the role of the judicial branch, which they obsessively brand as some sort of usurpation of democratic rights, rather than recognizing it was one element of our tripartate separation of powers -- which itself exists in part to preserve the rights of the few against the self-interested passions of the many.
No matter what they may profess to the contrary, they aren't actually interested in democracy at all. What they seek is the imposition of a theocratic set of eternal moral principles into the realm of what is meant to be the civil and secular rule of law.
Mentioning the rule of law means that we must address the question of Multnomah County. In the end, we would be remiss if we didn't address this aspect of the same-sex marriage battle anyway, if for no other reason than to be honest about the fact that we disagree with just about everyone else when it comes to this question.
In the end, for us, the decision of Multnomah County to issue same-sex marriage licenses was an act of civil disobedience -- the only one possible given the law in question.
Normally, civil disobedience is an action take solely by citizens themselves in protest of an unjst law -- taking a seat at a whites-only lunch counter or in the "wrong" section of the bus. These actions are taken because they directly and literally violate an unjust law. When it comes to marriage equality, however, civil disobedience is impossible without the assistance of a state actor.
There is no lunch counter or seat on the bus for gays and lesbians to occupy. Instead, there is a license which the state and the state alone has exclusive authority to issue. In order to protest an unjust marriage law, a state actor -- in this case, Multnomah County -- had to directly and literally issue same-sex marriage licenses.
Readers will note that this is not the way the Commissioners in question discuss the County's decision. Rather, they abide by the position that once the County Attorney offered the legal opinion that Oregon's marriage statutes were unconstitutional, the County was obligated to issue marriage licenses without consideration of sexual orientation. Whether or not that position (that the County was obligated to ignore what its attorney said was an unconstitutional law) will ever be validated or invalidated by the courts remains to be seen.
But our position isn't based upon the County's legal justification for its actions. It's based upon the proposition that civil disobedience is a legitimate response to unjust laws, and that there could be no true civil disobedience -- meaning a direct and literal violation of Oregon's marriage statutes -- without state action. It is on these grounds (and we've argued this case before, although to little success) that we have always supported the County's decision.
We fully understand, and have always fully understood, that the methods behind the County's actions were seized upon by opponents of same-sex marriage. By joining the chorus of those focusing on what we've deemed (to much derision by others, we admit) the "process distraction" the forces of the righteous wing were able to capitalize on anti-County sentiment and funnel it into the momentum of their larger agenda against same-sex marriage itself.
In the end, we simply have a stark difference of opinion with those supporters of same-sex marriage who disliked the County's approach to the issue. They believe it was not worth the risk, while we believe it was a moral imperative to take that risk. While we've been accused of suffering from Last Word Syndrome on this aspect of the fight, the reality is that none of us will ever really have the last word on it.
We're simply going to have to live with the severely separate and distinct views of the County's actions. Some believe that the County should have taken a realpolitic approach, understood the potential backlash, and held off. We believe that once the action ocurred, supporters of same-sex marriage should have taken the realpolitic approach, understood that process criticism would only fuel the righteous wing, and held off. Neither side is ever going to gain any ground in convincing the other.
Regardless of one's views of the County's process, it is inescapable that the controversy which erupted provided the righteous wing with the political cover it needed. With the debate over the process distraction raging, they were able to disguise themselves as mainstream citizens simply concerned over democratic processes. So disguised, they were able to insinuate themselves into the good graces of many of those Oregonians who are conflicted over the issue of same-sex marriage in and of itself, and begin generating attention they could parlay into advancing their real aims and ambitions.
In no way do we suggest that it's true of all Oregonians who find themselves almost instinctively inclined to support Measure 36, but when it comes to those most directly responsible for the measure and its intentions, their motivation is disturbingly simple, no matter how much trouble we get into for bothering to call them on it.
They are bigots.
At stake in the battle over Measure 36 is not just the most obvious point -- the fundamental right of a minority to fully enjoy the exact same privileges and responsibilities afforded to the majority. Also on the line is whether Oregonians feel comfortable with providing a clear and concise victory to the forces of the righteous wing, who are motivated by bigotry and fueled by religious zealotry.
While many of those inclined to support Measure 36 may not themselves reach the level of being classified as bigots or religious zealots, their support for Measure 36 at the ballot box will lend credibility -- and more frighteningly, power -- to those who are bigots and religious zealots.
So our challenge to Oregonians simply is this:
Vote to support the democratic principles that our constitution is not intended to discriminate against the few in the name of the opinion of the many.
Whatever you may think of same-sex marriage (or any other social or cultural controversy), it is more important that we all stand united behind the fundamental tenet that Oregon's Constitution should be the place where we enshrine the edicts of equality. If we don't all hold fast to one of the most central ideals of our constitutional democracy, none of the other disputes we may have mean anything at all. A victory for Measure 36 would be a victory for forces in our society which in essence hold democratic principles in contempt.
Vote against the proposition that the separation of powers as exemplified by the judicial branch is a usurpation of democratic ideals.
Those who masterminded Measure 36 consistently proclaim the near-evils of the courts. While few of us, on any side of the traditional political spectrum, would claim that there haven't been any court decisions with which we've fundamentally disagreed, the righteous wing takes this inevitable and ocassional dissatisfaction to an extreme which actually poses as much of a danger to the ideals of constitutional democracy as does writing discrimination into the Oregon Constitution. A victory for Measure 36 would be a victory for those who have been waging a crusade against the role of the judicial branch -- and therefore against the rule of law -- for years.
Vote against lending credibility and power to bigots and religious zealots who will not stop with Measure 36.
At its core, Measure 36 is but a tool of a righteous wing which seeks to impose their own narrow conceptions of right and wrong upon everyone else. So blinded are they by their sense of higher purpose, they see the very notion of how a constitutional democracy functions as a threat to their worldview. Behind the rhetoric that Measure 36 merely is a chance for the people of Oregon to speak for themselves is the truth: That for their views of the world to win, the paired notions of constitutional equality and the separation of powers must lose. A victory for Measure 36 would be a victory for the bigots and zealots who proposed it, giving them political power they must not be allowed to have.
Vote no on Measure 36.
Posted at 04:43 PM | PermalinkComments (137) | TrackBacks (1)
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