Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dictatorship by majority

There's no getting around it. I am saddened, disillusioned, and absolutely disgusted today.

Last fall, a small group of people put forth a proposition to voters in California: Shall 'marriage' be defined legally as between one man and one woman? Or in other words, shall we ban marriage between people of the same sex?

A simple enough question, one might think, but one carrying profound implications for families and individuals across California and across United States.

And a loaded question, because so many have been taught through whatever moral standard they follow or through whatever tradition to which they adhere, to find the concept of same-sex marriage wrong. Or scornworthy. Or simply, distasteful.

Somehow, through a fear-based disinformation campaign conducted mostly in the waning weeks of last fall's election season, that campaign funded mostly by religious organizations who otherwise state they believe in Loving Thy Neighbor, the proposition managed to pass. By only a small majority, mind you, but a majority nonetheless.

And thus, it became the law of the land. At least until it could be reviewed by the California Supreme Court.

Today, that Court ruled that the proposition could stand. And by doing so, today that Court took a sledgehammer to one pillar at the foundation of United States democracy.

Unlike 'the big lie' that many believe, the lie that if repeated often enough can replace the truth, the United States was not founded upon on the Judeo-Christian values found in a 1,500-year-old book. In reality, the country's founders went out of their way to avoid defining rights as based on some ancient law coming from some dusty religious tome.

Instead, the United States was founded on the idea of freedom. Freedom of expression. Freedom of religion. Separation of Church and State. The pursuit of Life, Liberty and Happiness. And though the United States Constitution's framers stated those final three rights were 'endowed by a Creator', they also referred to those rights as 'inalienable,' meaning they could not be rendered moot as long as the Constitution exists.

Those framers carefully spelled out that majority rule could not take away the rights of a minority. In other words, a mob of 50 percent plus one could not vote to deny those rights defined in the Constitution to those losing the election.

It's the concept of 'majority rule versus minority right,' which through debate, refinement and amendment over the last two centuries has reminded us all continuously that our freedoms shall not be abridged by race, or by creed, or by sex.

And contrary to popular belief those amendments did not expand basic rights to those groups. Instead, they merely reaffirmed that those rights have always existed in the Constitution, and that those rights shall not be abridged. Not through through tradition or practice. Not through poll taxes or Jim Crow laws. Not through banning interracial marriage, as so many states used to. And certainly not through the legislative will of some well-funded but misled religious mob wanting to codify two archaic lines from Leviticus -- lines that absurdly but equally ban tattooing and the consumption of shellfish -- into United States law.

Can there be any right more basic than to right to love? It may not be spelled out in the Constitution as such, to anyone who has experienced true love, its power to affect one's liberty and one's ability to pursue happiness is absolutely undeniable.

And yet today, in denial of the most sacred Constitutional principle of 'majority rule and minority right,' the California Supreme court ruled that a simple majority vote can indeed deny a minority their right to Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness by denying that minority the right to love, and by denying that minority right to commit to love for life under the protection of law.

This decision, that a bare majority can vote away the rights of a minority, goes against our most basic principles as Americans.

This decision is not merely saddening. This decision is wrong. And as such, this decision cannot be allowed to stand.

For if it does, which of our rights will will go under the sledgehammer next? Which will be the next to fall?

Whom will we go after next? And in the end, whom will be left to speak for us?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


It seems I'm trying much harder to feel connected these days.

Over the last couple of months, I've attempted to consolidate my entire web presence under one roof, so to speak. Hence the links to my Facebook and Twitter accounts, over there in the upper-right corner of this very page, the elimination at least one of my e-mail addresses, the vetting of my Firefox bookmarks to leave only those websites I'm interested in reading on a daily basis, and a concerted effort to develop a personal strategy for using each of these communications tools.

That strategy? Right now, I use my Twitter account to keep my freelance clients, my fellow dads and my community-involvement groups appraised of where I am and what I'm doing, just in case someone needs to reach me. My Facebook presence is intended for friends near and far, to keep those who are interested up-to-date on my thoughts and adventures. And Extemporalia is supposed to be a bit more philosophical, with theoretically longer pieces describing something I think or believe or experience, all while striving to remain more universal, less personal, and (save for this entry, apparently) rarely self-referential.

Of course, I also use Internet-based tools ranging from e-mail (which somehow seems old-fashioned these days) to Skype, from text messaging to YouTube, all of which are meant to keep me somehow connected with those both near and distant, allowing everything from quick 140-character notes to high-quality video to be transmitted from anywhere to me on demand, and from me to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Then there's my collection of iPods, which allow me to stay connected equally both to music I've enjoyed since I was a kid as well as those rare new releases that gain my interest. When I'm working or online, my 30 gig iPod 'classic' competes for listening time with my new 4 gig third-generation Shuffle, and both of those are supplanted during drive time by either my silver 1 gig second-generation Shuffle or my son's green Shuffle, which squeezes in a few 'dad tracks' like 'Rocket Man' and 'Rainy Night In Georgia' amongst its vast collection of tunes from The Wiggles and the Bloodshot Records kids compilation 'The Bottle Let Me Down.' And of course, two of those iPods help me listen to episodes of a number of podcasts, those homemade audio programs which to me have become nothing short of the voices of distant friends. All available on demand.

Finally, I'm perhaps ashamed to admit that I find myself spending more time these days checking websites, Facebook and Twitter updates on my cellphone. So, and despite not doing much with Digg or LinkedIn or StumbleUpon, it would seem I'm more connected than ever to those who utilize similar means for their communication.

But I do feel like something's been lost along the way.

Why is it when I see something interesting, I'm more likely to post it on Facebook than turn to someone and simply tell them about it?

Why is it when I have a good day, I'm more likely to wonder what made it so good and blog those thoughts, instead of sharing them in person?

Why is it when I'm at a place my friends would enjoy, I'm more likely to sent a Tweet than actually dial someone and say 'Come and join us'?

I suppose physical distance has something to do with it. After all, save for my local political acquaintences and fellow dads, I live much farther west than most of the people with whom I want to remain connected.

But I also wonder if my desire to decrease virtual distance is leading to an increase in 'real' distance. I wonder how friendships and relationships can thrive or even survive through the filter of electronic means. I wonder if others feel those electronic connections are as valid as the ones we feel outside of virtuality. I wonder if the satisfaction I feel at sharing my world's wonders via electronica is even real.

A couple of weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times carried a story about a group of high-school students who wondered whether they could go without their electronic devices for an entire week. While many of the students succeeded, according to the article they discovered a lot about their worlds. The pleasures of family conversations. The wonder of books. And in one case, the beauty of birdsong, previously silenced by the constant presence of their personal iPod.

Early this morning, just before sunrise, with my windows open and the breeze coming in, my kitchen was filled with the sounds of singing birds greeting the sunrise. And for a few brief moments, I simply enjoyed it.

All without sending out so much as a Tweet.