North Carolina recently passed constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage and civil unions for homosexual couples. The ban passed not as an act of some nefarious wayward legislator or backroom deals between powerful interests – it was voted on by citizens, with a 61%-39% margin approving the ban.
We like the concept of democracy – a government we have a say in, but doesn’t this show the superiority of a rights-based system? Defenders of gay marriage and rights for nontraditional couples are rightfully outraged at this abuse of their rights. “Gay rights are human rights” is a phrase I’ve seen liberally tossed around Facebook.
What room is there for voting in a matter of rights? As libertarians, we understand that democracy was never the ideal of the American Revolution. We don’t vote on the laws – we vote on representatives. We don’t vote for President – we vote for the Electoral College. We don’t vote for the Supreme Court – they’re entirely undemocratic, appointed for life by the President.
The point is that voting isn’t intrinsically good. People can, and do, use democratic systems to abuse minorities, something James Madison warned about extensively in The Federalist Papers. In North Carolina, there was enough ignorance and hatred to strip the rights of countless people, whose only crime was being honest with themselves. The law should apply to everyone fairly, regardless of what a majority of citizens say. We recognize the evils of cliques and peer pressure while growing up, so why do we embrace majority rule as adults?
I don’t have to convince you that the NC vote was a tragedy. I have to convince you that it’s emblematic of the problems with democracy. It sounds good to have a government “of and by the people”, but wouldn’t you rather have rights you knew you could rely on? We shouldn’t vote on people’s rights. They’re only rights because they can’t be taken away. Otherwise they would be privileges – should loving the person of your choice be a privilege reserved for those society finds most appealing? Of course not.
Democracy is a dangerous, dangerous tool. If we apply it too liberally, we’ll end up in a world devoid of freedom. Or, as Madison put it, a “tyranny of the majority”. Thanks, but no thanks – I’ll keep my rights.