Column on Democracy, When it Suits me

Democracy, When It Suits Me
Tibor R. Machan
Back in the 1970s I think it was, California had one of those referenda on
whether to slap huge taxes on oil companies and the thing lost. The person
who was an avid supporter—maybe even the main organizer—of the effort,
Bill Press, was very unhappy with the result. If I recall correctly, he
alleged that the election was rigged, that Big Oil bought off the voters,
etc., etc. Press didn’t simply accept that his side lost.
Democracy has this about it: most people don’t much like being subjected
to a vote when it comes to their basic beliefs and conduct. If Big Oil
really owes huge bucks to the rest of us, it shouldn’t be a matter of a
vote whether it will pay up. Indeed, a great many matters on which people
get to vote should not be subject to a vote at all. A system of limited
government means, among other things, that government doesn’t get to
intervene with our lives, even when a majority of the voters would prefer
that it did. Notice, for example, that no referenda are acceptable about
whether Catholics, Methodists, Jews, Moonies and other faithful are free
to practice their faith. The First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution,
combined with the doctrine of incorporation that applies the amendments to
the whole country, rules out voting on people’s religious practices. Or
what they may publish in their newspapers.
Sadly, however, democracy today is taken to apply to nearly everything
else. Voting on whether one may elect to die with the aid of a willing
assistant? It is no one’s business but the parties who are directly
involved and thus voting on the issue is in essence like voting on whether
some of us should be enslaved!
This is how it is with California’s recent vote on whether gay marriages
should be banned. It is no one’s business apart from the couple’s whether
they should get married. Sure, tradition promotes only heterosexual
marriages but tradition is no guide since it is all over the place,
proposing this here and that there. So long as gays marrying each other
forces no one to do anything—and, yes, there are problems with that since
once married, the government requires others to treat the couple in
certain ways no one should be forced to treat them—it is no one’s proper
authority to prohibit it.
Because with marriage come various legal privileges that others must
provide, the matter isn’t all that simple. We aren’t just talking about
the freedom of gays to marry, to do what they choose to do without
compelling others to do anything. Married couples have mandated privileges
at work, in renting their homes or apartments, and so on.
So when it comes to the right of gays to marry it turns out that is not
all that’s involved. That right would appear, at first sight, to simply
establish a freedom from interference but, in fact, it also establishes
entitlements. People who believe that gays are breaking God’s law, for
example, will have to fork out support for gay married couples unless
there is a ban of the kind that passed in California. Yet, of course, the
mandated support for gays is matched by mandated support for
heterosexuals. Bottom line: both gays and bigots have rights, including
the right of disassociation!
Yet, that should be dealt with apart from the marriage issue. Should
people receive legally mandated benefits from being married? No. Anyone
has the right to marry and that’s it. Others may not be imposed upon by
this and one reason there may be resistance to gay marriage is that it
requires those who object to it to provide it with certain kinds of
support, not simply to tolerate it.
More generally, though, people have all kinds of rights to act one or
another way and no one ought to have the legal authority to interfere. To
make it possible to vote on such issues—like whether one must take
sensitivity classes at a university (another California law)—is already to
pervert democracy, which must be limited to issues that do not involve
rights violations (like who will be the president or the local sheriff).
The illiberal kind of democracy now running amok everywhere is likely to
destroy democracy where it is quite justified. After all, unlimited
democracy can be used against itself and has been in many instances that
even saw dictators come to power "democratically." In the California case
gays should have no obstacles placed before them when they want to marry
but should also not demand that their critics be required to support them.

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