Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Can't Help It: Majorities Suck

There, I said it.

Majorities suck. There is no reason to let majorities define morality for the rest of us. Even if I get Kos-trated, I'll still say it.

That's why we have the Bill of Rights. That's why we have the 14th Amendment, to ensure that the state governments, like the Feds, cannot use the tyranny of the majority to abuse individual rights. A key part of the 14th Amendment says: "no state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

That should have been the basis of the court decision blocking Prop 8 in California. Equal protection. The majority wanted Prop 8. The majority can go jump in the lake.

Not sure why the court used that crap about dignity. This is straightforward equal protection. You can't say we allow a contract between two consenting adults, depending on whether the majority happens to approve of those adults and their lifestyle. If the contract is valid and the state is going to insist on enforcing it, then that contract must be available to any couple that qualifies under the conditions for valid contract.

Majorities do not, and cannot be allowed to, define morality. In Prop 8 in California, the majority overstepped. The court did what courts should do (though their reasons were stupid: it's JUST EQUAL PROTECTION!).

Majorities suck. Why would anyone expect to find rectitude in the multitude?

And if we don't trust majorities to choose morality / religion / restrictions on speech for the rest of us, why would anyone trust voters to pick the right candidate? After taking these abuses, I'm warming to the Electoral College. It recognizes the importance of states in the Constitution, it increases motives for participation in battleground states, and it gives voters in small states more of a say. Sure, there are good arguments against the Electoral College, but just saying that "majorities should always get their way" means you need to go back to school.

The US is not a democracy. We don't trust majorities, because of stupid stuff like slavery and the Alien and Sedition Act, and the Patriot Act, and Prop 8. There is nothing special about the majority will, it's just what most people happen to believe.

(Note: This post was edited to remove two typos)


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you clarified your position regarding the tyranny of the majority against the Kos attack. Their argument was both shortsighted and belligerent.

My only question now is why should the government ever be in the position of defining marriage? Let that be up to churches and have the government enforce the contracts.

Angus said...

"let that be up to churches"?

Are you kidding me? Trade one form of tyranny for another? The alternative to majority rule isn't Theocracy!

"let that be up to churches"?

That's the stupidest sentence I've ever read.

I don't think you understand anything Mungo is about.

Mungowitz said...

Anonymous, that's a win for you. Of course that's first best: why is government involved?

Answer: Government got involved for two reasons....Wanted to prevent miscegenation (mixing of the races), and wanted to implement a eugenics program to prevent "imbeciles" from reproducing.

Those are bad reasons.

That's why I said, in my post, "If the state is going to insist on enforcing (marriage contracts)..."

If the state is going to be in the business of enforcing these contracts, they cannot play favorites.

Mungowitz said...


Angus, Angus, Angus.

Angus said...

Mungo Mungo Mungo: you favor letting CHURCHES decide who can be married and who not?


te desconozco

Doc Merlin said...

The case was weird in that the court essentially said that the reason they overturned the law, was that it wasn't discriminatory enough.

Doc Merlin said...

Allowing "churches" to decide what is legit or not, is the same as just saying "let the market decide." If a church doesn't approve of your marriage you can make your own church (or join a different one), and tadah you now have a legit marriage.

Angus said...

no "equal protection" for atheists? Government is "enforcing contracts" written by churches?

No thank you please.

I'll take the government over the church pretty much every time.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, WTF Angus?

Anonymous said...

"Not sure why the court used that crap about dignity. This is straightforward equal protection."

I suspect the 9th circuit pannel agrees but chose to decide the case on grounds that only apply to the circumstances of California (and maybe Hawaii). Had they decided it on 14th amendment grounds it would mean instant marrage equality in every state. SCOTUS would have to strike it down or risk a likely Roe v. Wade type backlash and entrenchment. With the more narrow ruling, SCOTUS might let it stand, and the14th amendment argument might be made for the first time in a few years when it is more likely to succeed.

Brad Hutchings said...

Munger... You probably have no idea how right you are about how majorities should not define morality in this particular case. It's not just gays getting marriage licenses from the state. Ron Prentice, a prop 8 hack, was on local TV news last night saying that we all know that children are raised best by biological father and mother. Apparently, Prop 8 is also about halting the evils of adoption.

Mike said...

Angus, church defined marriages work for me. What doesn't work me is having the government involved in the religious aspect of domestic partnerships.

Convert my marriage license to registered domestic partnership. Doesn't bother the religious part of me at all. The Church sanctions my marriage.

Where I get really cranky is having a domestic partnership between to men or two women defined as a marriage by the government.

It ain't the same thing. Words have generally agreed upon meaning.

Although if the two men or the two women start/find a religion that sanctifies their domestic partnership as a marriage, I wouldn't say anything. Out loud anyway.

John said...

Government should enforce the contracts people freely enter into. Whether such contracts are called marriage is up to the people involved to decide. If people want to craft their marriage in accordance with religious beliefs, whether within or without the authority or guidelines of a religious institution, that is their choice as well.

I have my own view of what marriage is, and it is informed by my religious beliefs, (and it does line up with what my Church teaches). But I do not desire to use the power of the state to impose those beliefs on others. That, to me, is the essence of freedom.

Brad said...

Mike, even the most cursory look at the evolution of Christian marriage practices shows that in fact it is an ever-fluid institution. I mean, for most of the first 1500 the church didn't have anything to do with it (damn Council of Trent!). The "generally agreed upon meaning" changed quite a bit, no? There has never been anything inherently religious about marriage, and the specific role of any given church varies across churches, and within churches over time.

So you "get cranky" because some people you don't approve of get to be called married, and the words don't mean what you think they should (I wonder your repines to Loving...). I "get cranky" when you want to impose on others what your rather ahistorical definition of what marriage is "generally agreed" to mean. The very problem with CA is that it allows people to pass public policy because they're cranky (from 13 to 187 to 8).

Mike said...

Aw, come on Brad, I don't want to force anything on anybody. And I don't see how my comment implies anything other than my opinion of what the word marriage means. If my definition of marriage is not historically correct, fine, so be it. Additionally, nothing in my comment can be construed as anti gay or lesbian. I just operate with a narrow definition of marriage. I'm a crank that way.

Oh, and I don't expect any special consideration from the state because I'm married by my narrow definition. Note that I did say you could convert my marriage license to a registered domestic partnership agreement. I would not care one bit.

I like to think of my position as one that is politically palatable to all. If a policy such as this were enacted, I could then be considered just another religious crank (and I'm not even very religious) that would have no standing to interfere with your definition of marriage.

Again, getting cranky does not imply anything other than complaining to the people I know, and who know me. These would be the ones who already ignore my rants.

AndyO said...

Right-handers rise up! Now is the time to make left-handedness illegal! We have the numbers! Join with me now... great points, Mike.

Brad said...

But the word marriage does have lots of baggage along with it, and it means something to people. You want to deny them that, because apparently the state isn't/hasn't/shouldn't be in the business of marriage. Obviously the first of those is wrong, as is the second. If your position is "get the state out of marriage" let churches take care of it, it's absurd. A large minority of Americans who marry do so through civil ceremonies. They want the institution, even if they're not religious. Or they have some internet-ordained "minister" like yours truly perform their "religious" ceremony (only rule they gave me: nothing sappy, no Jesus-talk). For a huge portion of Americans marriage has nothing to do with religion already.

You are forcing your conception of marriage on people, even if you're guessing it up in psuedo-libertation rhetoric. I don't want to have to start my own religion to get married, thanks, and shouldn't have to. I'll take the civil ceremony like so many people do. A form of marriage with just as long and illustrious a history as religious marriage. And I'll take the ceremony for marriage. Not for a "separate but equal" domestic partnership.

You "operate with a narrow definition of marriage," and your policy is "get the state out of the marriage business so I don't have to recognize anything outside of my own narrow definition." To put it bluntly: fuck that. Again, I reference you to Loving.

Dave said...

Aren't you forcing your definition of marriage on everyone else, too?

If people want to have non-religious marriages, that's fine. But I'm not sure why the state has to pay public employees to be marriage sanctioners for the non-religious?

I, for one, have enough faith in the almighty invisible hand of the free market to believe that it could produce non-religious marriage sanctioners.

Shawn said...

angus; I've been saying the same thing (I think) as Mr. Munger for a while now...but I usually write it as "Rather than legalizing same-sex marriage, I say just let individual organizations (churches, kiwanis clubs, whatever) "marry" people, and let the contractual requirements (property ownership, dissolution-of-contract issues) be handled by the courts."

So, the word "marriage" can mean whatever you want it to, so long as your group/club/denomination recognizes it as a valid signal of commitedness. Right now, the state uses it as shorthand for a whole parcel of legal rights...which was probably fine for a certain point in history, but isn't anymore.

Brad said...


I'd agree with this perspective, perhaps, if--and only if--those of your political bearing were out forcefully advocating for such policies. You're not. It's libertarian armchair politics, accompanied by Mike's pooh-poohing of the Prop 8 decision because it conflicts with his self-admittedly narrow and ahistorical conception of marriage. But clearly we shouldn't worry about the implications of your politics, because in an ideal-type libertarian state, marriage wouldn't have anything to do with the government.

Unfortunately that isn't the world we live in, and when those like Mike above (not Munger) pooh-pooh those of the same sex being able to marry, and justify it with "well I'd be happy to have my marriage re-registered to a domestic partnership" they're enemies of liberty, not proponents. Because the actual implication of such a political position is very clear: denying equal protection for gays and lesbians.

Feel free to obfuscate with reference to a libertarian utopia, but given that we both know that's not happening anytime soon, I'll call such positions out for what they are.

Am I imposing my definition of marriage on other people? No. You are free to marry whoever you want. Your church is free to marry whomever it desires to. But we exist in a society with a long, long tradition of civil marriage. And as long as that exists, equal protection, as Munger wrote in the post that precipitated this, applies.

Dirty Davey said...

How about we put the horse before the cart instead of vice versa?

(1) If we're going to say that "marriage" is reserved for churches, and that some sort of "legal partnership" should replace civil marriage, then I would think an absolute first step would be for ALL the state-recognized benefits of marriage to be made available to "legal partners". As long as the state grants ANY benefit to a "married couple" that's not automatically available to "partners"--tax treatment of benefits, protection from compelled testimony, joint tax filing, inheritance--then the state has the right to define marriage as it wishes. (Not to mention to do so in a way that meets equal protection requirements.)

If you don't start by making all the state-recognized benefits of marriage available to "partners", you're saying "Take second-class status now, and we promise we'll work on fixing it sometime in the future".

(2) I can guarantee that if the term "marriage" was left entirely to the churches that there would be enough welcoming denominations that we'd see same-sex marriage in all states in fairly short order, and that there's no way that the government could put itself in the position of saying "Catholic, LDS, and Presbyterian marriages are fine, but we can't accept all the marriages from the Metropolitan Church, Unitarians, or the United Church."

Anyone who says "leave marriage to the church" is not actually interested in leaving marriage up to any and every denomination or congregation that would thus be entitled to weigh in.

Brad said...

I guess I ask these sorts of things because this new ballot initiative was filed here in the state of Washington last month, in preparation for the fact that the state House and Senate are in the process of passing a gay marriage bill. The language was just finalized:

"Ballot Title: Initiative Measure No. 1192 concerns the definition of marriage.
This measure would define marriage as a civil contract between one man and one woman and prohibit marriage when the parties are persons other than one man and one woman.
Ballot Measure Summary:
This measure would define marriage as a civil contract between one man and one woman. It would also prohibit marriage if the parties to the marriage are persons other than one man and one woman."

Note the civil contract aspect of the language.

When libertarian types start spending time and money to pass initiatives getting the state out of marriage, I'll take their "I don't oppose equality, I just want the state out of marriage" shtick seriously. Which is not to say a large chunk of them don't support marriage equality, of course. I'm speaking about the significant portion who continually use the above argument.

Mike said...

Brad, sorry to leave the discussion (time differences and spotty developing world internet connections).

Are you suggesting that my casual and according to you, ahistorical definition of marriage, is supportive of that ballot measure?

Really? Because I don't think I've discussed anything like that.

Dave said...

Hey Brad, if I used all caps in my comment about getting the state out of the marriage business, would that be forceful enough advocacy??

I don't know if you realize this, but libertarians are a pretty small percent of the population. There's like one elected official at the federal level who claims to be libertarian, and that's it. And many libertarians don't even think he's libertarian. That plus the fact that at least 80% of voters seem to want government involved in defining marriage might explain why there aren't any "Get the Gov't Out of Marriage" initiatives in your neighborhood.

However, it's also why many libertarians do support expanding the definition of marriage to include homosexual couples. For many it's the next best option and perhaps the path to gov't-free marriage.

And on a broader note, I'm not sure why you're so up in arms about people defending their ideal policies after you call them absurd. Pointing out that they might not be realistic political solutions in the current environment is one thing, but that's not what you did in the comment I responded to, so chill out man.

Anonymous said...

Angus, you are way too sensible for this blog. Isn't it depressing to see what most of your readers are like? As to your co-blogger, I have always wondered whether he's a genuine liberal or libertarian, or a closet conservative. I wonder about this issue less and less, as his comments are rather telling.