and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
December #5

A vote for democracy
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, December 28, 2006

"It's not men who limit women, it's not straights who limit gays, it's not whites who limit blacks. What limits people is lack of character. What limits people is that they don't have the nerve or imagination to star in their own movie, let alone direct it."  -- Tom Robbins

This week I renew my traditional activist resolution:  to passionately support the initiative petition process, regardless of whether I agree with a particular petition or not. My first chance to keep this resolution arrives immediately in the New Year, when once again the state Constitutional Convention meets for its required vote on two initiative constitutional amendments.

Citizens opposed to gay marriage and others in favor of universal health care collected thousands of required signatures on their respective amendments, which are still awaiting action in the ConCon before the end of the 2005-2006 session on Jan. 2. Both groups have filed briefs with the state Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled yesterday that the Legislature must take an up or down roll call vote on the actual issue and will be violating the state Constitution if it does not.

Opposition to obeying the Constitution is coming primarily from gay activists who don't want the gay marriage issue on the ballot because they lack the nerve and imagination to star in their own ballot campaign movie. Instead they whine that the initiative petition process shouldn't apply to their issue, that voters are stupid and/or bigoted, that the Constitution should protect gay rights but not the rights of petitioners who have followed the long-standing rules to amend that Constitution.

They insist that gay marriage has, in just a few years, become a sacred "civil rights" issue that can never be debated again. They argue that the initiative petition process is undemocratic because only 50 legislators, not a majority, are required to advance an initiative constitutional amendment onto the ballot.

The reason for this, by the way, is that if a majority of legislators was required, there'd be no point in having an initiative amendment process at all, since that legislative majority could put an amendment on the ballot without anyone having to collect signatures. Petitions are given an advantage because of all the work required to even get the Legislature's attention. However, it does of course take a majority of voters to amend the Constitution once the issue gets to them.

Gay activists imagine this:

Instead of ruling in favor of gay marriage on Nov. 18, 2003, the SJC ruled that gay marriage is not supported by the Massachusetts constitution. This is not hard to imagine, since the controversial vote was 4-3.

You decide to amend the constitution to allow gay marriage. You draft your petition, get it vetted by the attorney general as being appropriate for a ballot question, spend eight weeks collecting your required signatures, and finally earn your place on the ConCon agenda. You lobby legislators and find at least 50 who support you, so you prepare for your required vote. However, key legislative leaders, and a majority of legislators, are opposed to gay marriage. So they just don't bring it up for a vote.

When you complain you are told that since some element of the populace thinks that gay marriage is a sin, the initiative petition process does not apply to you. So it's over; you don't get a chance to make your case to the voters, you remain unmarried.

If that had happened to you, I would have been right out there with you, insisting that you were entitled to that vote; if asked, I would sign on to your lawsuit as I have the health care lawsuit. We would argue together that if legislators continue to ignore you, in violation of their oath of office to uphold the Constitution, the SJC should move your petition forward, over and around them.

Then there would be a ballot campaign, a chance for you to make your case -- as there may be anyhow if anti-gay marriage petitioners eventually prevail.

For the sake of my own gay friends and family, who have made such progress, I'll give you some free advice. Gays are winning this debate with the population. You can all act like grown-ups now and make your case, and win by getting support not only from social liberals but from many divorced heterosexuals like me who feel a tad hypocritical arguing for "family values."

Instead, many of you remain in pathetic loser mode, clinging to old pain, refusing to trust your ability to convince voters because, well, I'm no psychiatrist, but you certainly give the impression that you don't have much self-confidence in the rightness of your position. Too bad. Makes some people who have begun leaning your way wonder what is wrong with you that maybe society shouldn't encourage by calling your civil union "marriage."

Gay activists: it's not too late to develop some character, some nerve and imagination, some respect for the Constitution and state's voters. If you do, maybe those voters will also respect you.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.