Posted on Thursday, May 28th, 2009 at 2:40 am
Author: Renee Martin
Gc contributor: Renee Martin
On May 26, the California Supreme Court affirmed Proposition 8 by a six to one majority. The eighteen thousand that got married while same gender marriages were legal were issued a reprieve when the court confirmed that their marriages were allowed to stay intact. Reading through commentary from the GLB community, it is difficult not to feel empathy for the sadness and anger that this decision engendered.
“Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California,” Chief Justice Ronald George wrote in the court’s opinion. With those words he and six other Supreme Court Justices set the framework to firmly ensconce heterosexual privilege into law. Whether or not one believes that the state should be involved in marriages or the family pairings of individual citizens, the fact remains that we have come to view the institution of marriage as a right and therefore the exclusion of any segment of society amounts to discrimination.
It does not take courage or foresight to uphold the tyranny of the majority; it simply takes a willingness to bow before power. What is the purpose of the law, if it does not protect our weakest citizens from unnecessary harm? We exist with the ideology of equality and yet fall far from practicing it in many real ways. To propose that the majority should have the right to determine the rights of a marginalized group is to ignore the fact that historically, power does not concede, it simply controls and/or consumes the weak in an effort to maintain the status quo.
John Stuart Mill famously wrote,
“Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling, against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development and, if possible, prevent the formation of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence; and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs as protection against political despotism.”
To uphold the tyranny of the majority is counter not only to our stated beliefs of equality, it is specifically counter to a cohesive society. Oppression does not result in a state of satisfaction and therefore those that have been understood as the outgroup, will forever seek to legitimize their experiences thus causing a rift in our ability to act uniformly in the interest of the greater good.
We present individuality as the ultimate state of being, thus effectively ignoring the ways in which we must act communally for the sake of subsistence; we are an interdependent species.
In any social organization, it is never possible to achieve one hundred percent agreement on any issue, however it is still imperative that we guard against group-think. The will of the people does not always reflect the good of the people, simply because many will submit to what is deemed common opinion in a society that does not foster critical thinking or a true respect for liberty.
To be able to vote away the civil rights of a minority group is an action in defence of heterosexist privilege. No matter how many gay or lesbian couples get married, it will not affect marriages between men and women, because even though marriage is an institution authorized by the state it essentially is a contract between two people.
Those that applaud the decision of the California Supreme Court do so because it affirms heterosexuality as good and normal while constructing homosexuality as a deviant lifestyle. To confer marriage rights would disturb the straight/gay binary upon which heterosexual privilege is based. This decision is about power and privilege and our desire to promote dominant groups within society. To accept this as correct means succumbing to the ideology of might equals right, thus denying our ability to think and reason.
Viewing this as a victory is a terrifying proposal when we consider that most negotiate at least one area of social stigmatization. Though this ruling occurred to deny the rights of gays and lesbians, accepting that the majority exists with the right to control the rights of a minority group means those not affected by the Supreme Court decision may yet find themselves, perhaps under slightly different circumstances, under the same mob rule that they once championed; a greater power turning its attention to their rights with the same hostile gleam in its eyes.
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