Peter Wolfgang, gay marriage in Connecticut, and the democratic process

Today’s NY Times article announcing Connecticut’s decision to overturn a ban on gay marriage featured the following quote from Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut:

“It’s an outrage, but it’s not unexpected.  We thought all along that the court would usurp the democratic process and force same-sex marriage on Connecticut.”

I have to hand it to conservatives — they’re experts at distorting language.

Firstly, I have to take a cheap shot and laugh at the very idea of an institution devoted to the “protection of family”, a phrase made meaningless by its abstractions. (What exactly is this “family”, and what does it need “protection” from?).

But back to Wolfgang’s statment.  Let’s start with the obvious: the deceptive use of the word “force” in the last part of the sentence.  It sounds as if a totalitarian regime will storm into Darien, Greenwich, and Easton and announce a government mandate that all peace-loving citizens must either live next to a married gay couple or marry gay themselves.  Look out, Danbury…here come the queers!

But even more pernicious is the phrase “usurp the democratic process”.  Wolfgang’s implicit argument here is the that the decision was made not by the people of Connecticut, but by the Connecticut Supreme Court, an appointed body.  Thus, since the people had no say, the decision was inherently undemocratic.

If we take the definition of “democratic” only at its most concrete and prescriptive (i.e. the people vote in policy), then sure, the decision was undemocratic.  But what about the more conceptual definition that mentions abstractions like “equality” and “discrimination”?  The very first sentence of the document outlining the Court’s decision states:  “The issue presented by this case is whether the state statutory prohibition against same sex marriage violates the constitution of Connecticut.”

Mr. Wolfgang forgets that one of the roles of a State Supreme Court is to uphold the Constitution of that state.  His mentioning the lack of a public vote diverts from the true issue:  the promotion of equal treatment and the prevention of any government policy supporting discrimination of any kind, including policy supported by the people.  (I suppose it would help to point out that we were once a democracy whose population supported slavery.)

If we are to acknowledge the enforcement of equality as an integral part of the democratic process, then that process was upheld, not usurped.

And besides, it’s distortive to think of the decision as an advocation of gay marriage.  It’s not.  The decision merely states that is it discriminatory to prohibit marriage based on sexual orientation.   It’s not a vote to the positive for gay marriage; it’s a vote to the negative against unconstitutional policy.

Of course, if gay marriage survives the California referendum, then democracy will have been served in ALL ways!

But until then, we can only poke fun at the people who seem convinced of the destructive potential of Mr. and Mrs. Adam and Steve.


1 comment so far

  1. AK on

    You can bet that if the CT state supreme court was issuing a statement supporting the ban, it would have been hailed as an indication of how the judicial review process “serves” the best interests of the state and the country. Yes, they are masters of “spin”! We were thrilled when we read the article in the Mercury News…especially Uncle Michael. I wish I could say the same for my home state. Let’s hope there’s triumph on this one in California as well!

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