gaudior (gaudior) wrote in equal_marriage,

Cory Booker on Voting on Marriage

If you haven't seen it already, Newark Mayor Cory Booker does an excellent (and apparently spontaneous) speech on the question of putting same-sex marriage to a vote in New Jersey:

"But dear God, we should not be putting civil rights issues to a popular vote subject to the sentiments of the day. No minority should have their rights subject to the passions and sentiments of the majority. This is a fundamental bedrock of what our nation stands for. And I get very concerned that... we've created a second class citizenship in our state... I read the 14th amendment clearly. It talks about "equal protection under the laws." And that was never something that should go up to a popular vote, whether blacks, women or other minorities should be equal first class citizens. Thank God Jackie Robinson, there wasn't a popular vote whether he should... be a professional baseball player. And so, to me this is INFURIATING.. that we are still in the 21st century and we haven't created equality under the law. And so I will be fundamentally in the fiber of my being supportive of equal citizenship for all people in this country because I know at the end of the day I would not be here, my family would not be able to put food on the table for me, if it wasn't for that ideal in America.”

People who call for a vote and the "will of the people" on same-sex marriage are missing the fact that America is not a direct democracy. And for good reason-- the country is big enough, the laws complex enough, that it is a full-time job for hundreds of people to actually understand the laws and how to apply them. It's not the same as ancient Athens (population: ~250,000, voting population of free male land-owners: ~30,000*), which was small enough that the voters actually had a shot at all being able to understand every aspect of what was voted on.

We don't have that. We have laws based on a Constitution which is 224 years old, old enough that most of the people who live under its laws no longer have the context to know exactly what all of it means.** I don't think a direct democracy would work as well as what we have, which is a system where we hire people to understand and change the laws for us. I elect a Senator or a President the same way I choose a mechanic for my car-- as carefully as possible, because a lot of them are dishonest, and I depend on my car every day. I try to keep informed about how my car works, so I can tell whether the mechanic is lying to me. But I don't insist on fixing my own brakes, because I know I don't have the knowledge, and that I could cause a lot of damage to a lot of people if I tried to pretend that what I know is enough to make those decisions.

And yeah, this means that sometimes court decisions come down that aren't exactly what I want, and it's not a perfect system. But it is America, and how America was always designed to be. The Founding Fathers knew that the will of the people was important-- that's why we elect two of the three branches of government. But if they didn't also know that the will of the people should not always be predominant, then what do we have a Judicial Branch for in the first place?


**My wife once took a course on eighteenth-century intellectual history. The first day, they read the Declaration of Independence. Three months later, they read it again, now that they'd read enough of the philosophy of the time to understand what it was actually saying, and realized that the first time, they'd had no idea what it meant. I don't know all the details, but the phrase "we hold these truths to be self-evident" wasn't just a rhetorical introduction-- it was a radical departure from how governing bodies had talked about themselves in the past.
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