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Prop 8 Defeat Shatters Myth of Liberalism and Democracy

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I am not at all surprised by the California Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Proposition 8 passage, the statewide referendum that essentially banned gay marriage in California. I don't blame the court. As dismayed as I am by the passage of Prop 8, I had no doubt there was nothing illegal or constitutionally wrong with the manner in which its supporters won. Those of us who feel gay men and women should have as much right as anybody else to create a legal expression of their love will just have to fight this fight in another, albeit more difficult way, by changing hearts and minds.

In some ways what bothers me most about this whole Prop 8 thing is that it makes me question two basic cornerstones of what we generally think of as givens.

The first of those is the well-accepted and much publicized notion that California is supposed to be this liberal Mecca and bastion of forward thinking. Well that whole idea was certainly shot to you-know-where by the large number of conservative minded people who flocked to the polls and made it known that these Californians, the majority voting that day, are not as liberal as you might think. Other states, ones we don't usually think of as leading the way for progressive thinking, have shamed California on this front. So maybe we need to rethink this whole West Coast as the most progressive thinking myth.

The other thing that the Prop 8 vote forced me to reconsider, sadly, is the idea that democracy, at least when it comes to giving any voter the right to make laws, as is so popular in proposition rich California, is always a good idea. At first blush it seems so egalitarian to say that the people, the regular folks, and not the elite leaders and organizations, should have the power to make laws directly through these common statewide ballots. But the problem is that I'm not so sure anymore that we should leave such things as civil rights up to a popular vote. Such important concepts should not become campaign material, open to the vagaries of money, campaign organizing, and personal whim. I wonder if we had simply put the Civil Rights Act of 1964 up to a popular vote in certain Southern states, if it would have carried. I have my doubts. Which is why I don't think we should ever leave such a thing up to the people. I do fear that all too often, ignorance and fear, will trump what's right.

The right to marry is indeed a civil rights issue, despite the fact that I know many African Americans bristle at the notion of comparing it to the historic plight of African Americans, or even the once ban on interracial marriages that existed in most every state in our country. Ultimately, it is about two consenting adults having the right to express their love legally regardless of what someone else may think. I have absolutely no concern that by gays being able to do so, somehow my marriage will be in jeopardy or that the whole concept of marriage will come crashing down. As has been noted by others, we heterosexuals have done a fine job on our own doing great damage to the institution.

For now, as the Prop 8 opponents prepare to carry this fight possibly to federal court, I still say we have to resign ourselves to the more mundane, which is taking this fight heart by heart, household by household, state by state. Part of me hopes that what happened in California is that progressives were simply lulled to sleep by our liberal reputation and were caught off guard. Maybe we are as liberal as advertised, but we learned not to take that for granted and certainly to not underestimate those on the conservative side of the aisle.

As to the whole idea of trusting important issues to popular vote, I still say we need to rethink that notion. I just don't think important issues should be treated akin to "American Idol" style decision making, based on who or what is the most appealing to the largest number of people, regardless of how much they really know about an issue or what their biases are. There are issues that should be about more than mere popularity.

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