Court Overturns Same Sex Marriage Ban, World Judges Democracy?

A wedding cake is seen during a demonstration in West Hollywood, California, May 15, 2008, after the decision by the California Supreme Court to effectively greenlight same-sex marriage. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

A new post on Hidden Harmonies discusses the recent overturning of California Prop 8, a state law banning same-sex marriages, by U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn R. Walker. It does almost entirely to segue into what it describes as “the real problem”: Democracy allows irrationality to trump facts, science, etc. and yet there are still “advocates” for democracy as a political system of governance.

You have heard this argument before from the “Democracy Advocates”:  Let the People decide for themselves, (especially applied to China).  Who cares if the People are irrational or uneducated in delicate matters, let them decide for themselves.

What happened here is that the People decided with their usual gut feel for the issues.  Morality is more important, who cares about facts, let’s get on in ignorance and prejudice.

But Democracy is being judged EVERY DAY by the world, whether in a US court or in the world opinions, whether with facts or with religious morality.

A different verdict lies here, that whether this democracy can stand by the facts and the laws, or will it stand by its own version of religious morality much like in Iran?

My guess is the PEOPLE will likely be irrational, even when given such a clear choice.

Unless I’ve misunderstood the implications being made above, the author seems upset that a democracy enacted a law against homosexuality despite the “facts” and in accordance with “ignorance and prejudice” and is thus questioning the desirability of democracy as a system of governance itself. There’s probably an element of annoyance with “democracy activists” too, “especially” those who harp on China for not embracing democracy and still persisting in single-party authoritarianism.

Here’s the thing: There’s a bit of conflation going on here, on multiple sides. The concept of democracy does not promise any adherence to facts or science or whatever, only popular opinion. So don’t conflate the efficacy or desirability of democracy by measuring it against such criteria. True, some advocates of democracy get ahead of themselves, sometimes oversimplifying and thereby misrepresenting democracy as some sort of cure-all for all of society’s ills that ensures that only good things will result. They deserve getting called out for it, no disagreement there.

However, suggesting that “Democracy” (with a capital “D”) is “being judged EVERY DAY by the world” ostensibly because of how often laws enacted by a democratic government fail to reflect facts and science is:

  • One part overeager rebuke of overeager pro-democracy activists (who probably have to be in support of equal rights for homosexuals), and
  • Two parts melodrama that doesn’t really get us closer to understanding when democracy becomes preferable for wherever it is recommended.

There’s some good discussion about majorities vs. minorities or checks and balances in “democratic” republics, but I’m not too sure this Prop 8 episode contributes much to the world’s “judgment” of democracy itself.


Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  • Some HTML can be used to format your comment.
  • Add a picture to your comments with Gravatar.
  • Please be civil. Comments may be moderated.
  1. tanner boyle

    It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.

  2. AndyR

    So does the author give an example of a current form of government that does NOT allow irrationality to trump “facts or science” (two terms that are constantly used to falsely attribute objectivity to subjective positions, when anyone with a brain knows that humanity is actually incapable of thinking “objectively” in the first place…)?

    Ahhhh people who still believe in “truth”…where information has been created and/or filtered through the human mind you only have opinion my friends…

    Good take on this Kai and welcome back!

  3. Josh

    One interesting thing to note is that the author condemns those overeager democracy activists since, after all, it was democracy that caused same sex marriage to be banned to begin with, citing voters’ collective irrationality and ignorance. And yet in China, which uses the more preferable alternative (as is implied by the author), the first gay pride parade in China not too long ago was severely restricted by authorities and same sex marriage is not recognized. So much for the rationality of those tasked with the job of governance.

  4. Why are so many posts on this website only tangentially related to China and focus mainly on America? It seems that certain individuals would much rather write about what they see as the failings of the United States, but from the angle that the US is not as good as some Chinese think it is. This is a straw-man argument, a punch-bag on which certain people can work out their frustrations about America.

    Here’s a tip for you: this website is called “China/divide” not “China/America/divide”. The world has a population of roughly 6.5 billion, of whom 1.35 billion live in China and 300 million live in the US – the left over balance of 5 billion Latin Americans, Africans, Europeans and Asians are unlikely to come here looking for comparative studies between the US and China, but are likely to want to read about China through the eyes of Chinese and foreigners living in China. Nor are the majority of foreign residents in China Americans, in fact Americans trail behind several nations.

    • FOARP – Jealous or Releaved the conversation does not revolve around Europe(U.K.) versus P.R. China? {laughing}

      {pause} But you are making light of something I have observed for the last few years at various P.R. Chinese related blogs and websites – this sort of pent up rage about conditions in the U.S. versus P.R. China. Call it an unconcious coping mechanism – given that the U.S. seems to be more dynamic in dealing with issues of the day versus the powers to be in Beijing.

      If I remember John Lennon correctly in an interview he did in the late ’70s – he took the “Flower Power Generation” to task for doing nothing but whinning about why their half hearted efforts to “change the world” came to little or no effect.

      Actions still carry more weight than words, regardless if those words are carried on a new thing called the Internet.

      • “{laughing}


        Wow, was your response filmed before a live studio audience, or did you just dub that laughter track in afterwards?

        • What can I say – been using BBS systems before emoticons where available – and I like to convey some tone to my “electronic voice” to avoid missinterreptation of what I am trying to convey.

  5. B-real

    In response to the last paragraph I think if you were to ask the whole world to vote on this subject democratically I think they would be all on the same page. There would some nations on-board and open about it but just like racism people have not progressed far enough to be tolerant, or realize there is no need for tolerance.

    This is a perfect judgment and demostration of what democracy should be and all about. This is how a gov can please the majority.

  6. S.K. Cheung

    Nice post. Modes of thinking such as those in evidence on the basis of what you have excerpted here are why I have avoided the blog to which you refer like the plague. And I had endured the thinking and writing of the authors in question for quite some time, in another space.

    As you suggest, it is unclear what “facts” are in play when it comes to a decision by the populace on whether to allow same-sex marriage in California or not. But it’s certainly unclear to me as to how Prop 8 reflects on the concept of democracy as a political system, one way or another.

    It would seem that the author feels that the passage of Prop 8 was somehow an example of a failure of “democracy”. As Josh suggests, I wonder how the CCP’s stance on same-sex marriage reflects on the success of a one-party authoritarian system. Based on past observation, I’m not sure if that author would have thought those things through.

    To Tanner:
    I love Winston CHurchill quotes as much as you do.