“Democracy” Is Whatever Gets the Special Interest Its Way
One can only be grateful for the first word in Stephen Fortunato Jr.’s title of “retired Rhode Island Superior Court judge,” given his recent equation of voters in voting booths to clansmen in sheets and, implicitly, voting to lynching. (It would seem that fears of a judicial oligarchy are hardly misplaced when the institution is or has been in the hands of such men.)
Even before the jurist slams down his over-sized gavel on the heads of the population whom he was once presumed to serve, though, Fortunato’s reasoning is deeply flawed:
NOM’s push to put the question of the gay unions on a ballot is a ploy to subvert the orderly workings of our democratic processes. Representatives are sent to the State House to exercise their good judgment after they have heard testimony and been lobbied by all sides. In a case such as gay marriage, testimony will be presented by advocates on both sides, including religious leaders, psychologists, constitutional scholars and statisticians, not to mention a few buffoons. These hearings and debates will be reported in the media, dissected and criticized. The legislators will vote on the issue and then face praise, rejection or indifference from their constituencies.
The anonymity of the ballot box on issues of fundamental rights permits no such discussion, and NOM has capitalized on this in the 30 states, including in supposedly tolerant California, where it has defeated gay-marriage referenda. The outcome has usually been different when the matter has been argued in open and transparent legislatures and courts.
The issue is not that arguments won’t be aired in both cases. The distinction is that legislators draw all of the interest in the issue toward a limited number of politicians who will sit through some perfunctory hearings. In the case of a referendum, interested parties will make their arguments as broadly as possible — op-ed pages, television advertisements, and so on.
It’s also interesting that Fortunato slips into passive voice when he writes that “representatives are sent to the State House.” By whom? Well, presumably by the same voters whom he doesn’t trust to vote on same-sex marriage. Of course, when electing a politician, the issue is never as clear as voting according to one’s own opinion; not only are politicians able to triangulate across multiple issues, but there’s a reason for cliches about dishonesty.