Yesterday, New Jersey became the 14th state in the nation to endorse same sex marriages. Chris Christie, the moderate Republican governor thought by many to be a 2016 hopeful, has long stated his disagreement with marriage equality. When the New Jersey Legislature approved same-sex marriage in 2012, Christie was quick to veto the bill, stating that the 8.8 million people of New Jersey should decide on the issue – not the 121 politicians in the state capital. Christie reaffirmed his position in September after New Jersey Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled that New Jersey’s civil unions were not equal to marriage and therefore violated the recent US Supreme Court decision on DOMA. At the time, the administration was quick to appeal that decision, but thankfully, Governor Christie yesterday announced that the administration would drop its appeal – paving the way for marriage equality in New Jersey.
Governor Christie is certainly entitled to his opinion on same-sex marriage, though I find it narrow minded and misguided. However, his assertion that the people of New Jersey should vote on the rights of a persecuted minority group is, quite frankly, completely wrong. It begs the question – in recent history, when have we ever allowed “the people” to decide on the rights of a minority group and thought it was a good idea?
Women’s suffrage? No. Desegregation? Wrong again. And in any other context, it seems absolutely silly. Would we allow people to vote for whether or not Asians or Latinos could get married, share health insurance, or file joint tax returns? Even interracial marriage was approved not at the polling station but by the Supreme Court. In fact, the most recent time that the general public was allowed to vote on the rights of a specific minority group was in 2012, when Maryland, Maine, and Washington voted in favor of marriage equality, and the good people of Minnesota voted not to approve a same-sex marriage ban. Voters, in fact, have been responsible for denying minority rights, starting in 1998, when voters in Hawaii approved a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality.
As C.J. Prince points out, allowing the majority to vote on the rights of a relative few rarely turns out in favor of the minority.
Putting minority rights to majority vote doesn’t work all that well for minority groups. Just ask the LGBT families living in any one of the 35 states that currently have constitutional or statutory bans on same-sex marriage. If repeal of anti-miscegenation laws had been left to popular vote rather than to a Supreme Court decision, we’d probably still have states outlawing interracial marriage.
And while it’s true that recent polls show growing support for marriage equality in a number of states, polls don’t predict who actually shows up to election day. Nor do polls predict if propositions and ballot initiatives will ever make it to ballot. The Founding Fathers knew that certain rights could not be left up to the people to decide, with the First Amendment serving as the ultimate example. So then why are we so quick to suggest that the general public should be allowed to abrogate the rights of a relative few?
(I have a feeling someone well versed in history is going to school me. And that’s totally fine, by all means please do.)