Thu, Feb 01, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Democracy is not about majority rule over all

By Jiang Ho-ching 江河清

The Alliance for the Happiness of Future Generations, an anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) group in which conservative Christians are a majority, has again launched a petition for a “marriage definition referendum” and last week submitted a proposal to the Central Election Commission.

The proposal calls for “a referendum on the definition of marriage,” yet its real purpose is to oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage.

To justify the legitimacy of its proposal, the alliance said in a news release that “holding a referendum is the exemplification of a democratic country and democracy is the pride of Taiwan.”

Using “democracy” to defend a referendum that is against same-sex marriage is to misunderstand the concept of democracy by erroneously simplifying it to mean “protest through the ballot box.” It also ignores that democratic politics should be founded upon the fundamentals of social equality and justice.

While holding referendums is an essential aspect of a democracy and public consensus plays a vital role in politics, understanding democracy as merely an exercise in majority rule is extremely dangerous. When dialogue cannot be conducted fairly, the rights of minority groups are easily compromised.

A referendum on the rights of minority groups would likely only reflect social prejudices rather than social justice.

This is exactly the case with the anti-LGBT alliance: They keep proposing referendums that are against same-sex marriage by manipulating the logic of majority rule to prevent LGBT people — who form a minority — from striving for equal civil rights.

About half a century ago, many US states still had laws that prohibited interracial marriage. It was not until the 1967 case of Loving versus Virginia that the US Supreme Court ruled marriage between white and black persons legal.

Yet, according to opinion polls at that time, no less than 70 percent of US citizens opposed interracial marriage. If a referendum had been held, the result might have produced a huge step backward for fundamental human rights in the US.

In the past few years, Taiwanese anti-LGBT groups have proposed a series of referendums that were opposed to same-sex marriage, while social campaign groups have repeatedly made it clear in response that issues of human rights should never be determined by casting votes.

Dealing with the rights of minority groups through referenda not only demonstrates a misunderstanding of democracy, but would also be an abuse of the referendum process which deprives society of opportunities to more proactively facilitate equality and social justice.

Last year, the Council of Grand Justices ruled in favor of social campaign groups in a constitutional interpretation on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage: “Homosexuals, due to demographic structure, have been a discrete and insular minority in society. Impacted by stereotypes, they have been among those lacking political power for a long time, unable to overturn their legally disadvantaged status through ordinary democratic process.”

Despite the council asserting gay people’s equal civil rights through a constitutional interpretation, anti-LGBT groups continue to promote a referendum.

These groups, with their strong religious backgrounds, will never give up, just as there are still racist extremists in the US, despite interracial marriage being legal for half a century.

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