Abraham Lincoln freed black Americans from slavery and in doing so ushered in a new age of equality and freedom. But would President Lincoln have done so if they had the technology to poll and discovered that only 49 per cent of Americans supported it? If it happened in our world today, would he have the necessary political capital? I’m not so sure.
Living in a free democratic society, we are often quick to assume that the highest virtue in Australian politics is consensus. Certainly, Julia Gillard thought so when she opted to build consensus through her community forums for climate change. In times of conflict or disagreement, our first instinct is to put things to a vote. And this is the legacy of our over-emphasis on democracy. When democracy is the highest virtue, it can overshadow liberty and freedom.
Around the country, as many states enter an election period, we are seeing a stronger push towards legalising same-sex marriage. A push which is being ignored at the federal level and thwarted at the state.
As a straight man, many of my friends have come to ask me - “Why do you care about gay marriage? Why is it important to you?” Many of them (they are straight as far as I know) can’t see how gay marriage affects anyone but gay people. However, even though they can’t see it - gay marriage affects everyone.
During the 20th century we saw many civil rights struggles: from the end of segregation in the US, to the installation of women as social, economic, and political equals. After significant political pressure, Nelson Mandela was freed and apartheid ended in South Africa.
Would any of these causes have been less just or honourable if they only carried minority support? Would they have been any less morally righteous? In these cases, no intellectually serious person could say yes. And yet despite the majority of Australians supporting the legalisation of gay marriage, our whole political discourse panders to the needs of swing-seat politicians who look after their jobs first, and the freedom of all Australians last. Democracy before freedom.
This unfortunate state of affairs is not uncommon in the developed world. In California, efforts to stop gay marriage and make it illegal were put to a referendum in “prop 8”, which went on to succeed and be passed. However, in an exquisite moment of justice, “prop 8” was overturned at trial by Chief US District Judge Vaughn Walker saying:
The evidence shows that, by every available metric, opposite-sex couples are not better than their same-sex counterparts; instead, as partners, parents and citizens, opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples are equal.
Judge Walker added:
In the absence of a rational basis, … the belief that same-sex couples simply are not as good as opposite-sex couples.
A private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples is not a proper basis for legislation.
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