Though 74 delegates were chosen by their states, only 55 of them bothered to show up at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in May of 1787. Over the next four months, these 55 men gave the United States a system of government that has lasted two-and-a-quarter centuries, making ours the oldest working constitution in the world.
No small feat.
But now we are being told that 121 men and women are insufficient to provide the single state of New Jersey with a marriage law, a rather simple matter by comparison, most people would agree.
These 55 men drafted the most momentous document in world history: United States Constitution, the governing document of the country, establishing not only the principles of government but the very apparatus of that government – legislative, judicial, and executive and the means by which they were to work in relation to one another before the Constitution was finished.
It was signed by 39 men on September 17, 1787 out of the 42 remaining. The other thirteen men had left the convention for one reason or another. Those 39 men granted us a system of government.
But 121 men and women on February 18, 2012, cannot pass a bill granting marriage equality in their home state?
Governor Chris Christie tell s us that the marriage equality debate in his state of New Jersey, which provided four of those 39 signers (William Livingston, David Brearley, William Paterson, Jonathan Dayton), “should not be decided by 121 people in the statehouse in Trenton.”
Think about that for a moment. Or two.
You have to wonder what Christie means by this. Does he mean that only one man (Chris Christie) should decide it? He, after all, vetoed the pro-marriage equality vote, which means his one vote trumps the vote of those 121 men. A veto, after all, is a decision. Or does he mean that 121 men and women are not enough men and women to decide (we all know how much Republicans love referendums). No matter how you shake it out, his words make no sense.
But if 121 men and women aren’t enough, if the votes of 121 men and women aren’t representative in a representative democracy (established by that Constitutional Convention and just 39 men), then how is the Constitution itself legitimate when it was decided upon by a mere 55 men and signed by only 39? Hasn’t Chris Christie just denounced the very basis of the American system of government?
At the least, American governors (Republican governors certainly) require a course is basic civics. Let’s call it Civics for Dummies. The first copy goes to Chris Christie.
Think about it: just 55 men decided how America should be governed. But 121 cannot decide on a much more limited issue; the issue of marriage equality in just one state? In fact, the vote in Trenton on February 18 was 42-33; more people voted for marriage equality than for the U.S. Constitution.
But predictably Governor Christie wants a referendum:
“I continue to encourage the Legislature to trust the people of New Jersey and seek their input by allowing our citizens to vote on a question that represents a profoundly significant societal change,” Christie said in a statement. “I have been just as adamant that same-sex couples in a civil union deserve the very same rights and benefits enjoyed by married couples, as well as the strict enforcement of those rights and benefits.”
The problem is that as the Civil Rights movement proved, rights come only from legislation, not from majority votes. One of the very things the U.S. Constitution was written to prevent was the tyranny of the majority – the excesses of democracy, as they were called at the time. And Governor Christie wants to sidestep the Constitution and as Republicans did in California with Proposition 8, buy a majority vote in their favor with money from outside the state, trumping the very rights of the people he is pretending to champion.
To say the signers would not have approved is to understate the case. The Constitution is not perfect, as the signers themselves realized at the time, but it was signed by those 39 delegates, and it was ratified by 9 of the 13 states (one state had refused even to participate) making it the official governing document of this country. Chris Christie must be reminded of this. We have a system of government. It works.
The problem with the Republican Party is its reliance on moral relativism. If they don’t like the result, they change the rules, the rules being anything that gives them the desired result. That which provides the desired end is what is just and right in their eyes – in other words, the means justify the ends.
If the legislative process fails to ban marriage equality then a referendum is the way to go, as in the state of Washington. Only a few days after Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed marriage equality into law a referendum measure (Referendum 74) was filed with the Attorney General’s office so that civil rights can be put to popular vote.
Now don’t get me wrong: Republicans love legislation when it goes in their favor. The Republicans have relied many times (as has Gov. Christie himself) on legislative votes when the vote comes out the way they want it, banning marriage equality, women’s reproductive rights, collective bargaining and any of a number of other things. At those times the proper course of action is a law from above and imposed upon the (now despised) people – nothing wrong with 121 people in Trenton then!
Had the New Jersey legislature decided against Marriage Equality, you can be sure Chris Christie would never have vetoed it in he name of the people.
And though Republicans claim to champion states rights and despise federal interference in state affairs, if a state votes for Marriage Equality then suddenly a federal law is called for universally banning it and superseding the will of those suddenly despised states. One way or another, marriage equality must be defeated – by whatever means from vetoes to legislative votes to referendums to federal laws.
In the end the will of the people mean nothing to Christie or to any other Republican (Santorum comes to mind) because the majority of Americans approve of marriage equality. Increasingly, the American system of government reflects this as state after state approves marriage equality laws. Chris Christie has the right to veto bills – governors and presidents all do it at one point or another. But at least show some respect for the American system of government when you do it, and don’t pretend that the legislatures designed to do what New Jersey’s just did have no right to fulfill their function or that your decision is based on a desire to do what the people want.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.