So, let us say that I don’t like a particular ballot initiative and muster a group to oppose it. I organize others who feel the same way and, following all the laws, produce commercials and plan rallies to bring public awareness to the issue. Of course money is involved, for commercials cost money to produce and air on radio and television. Election day comes and the initiative fails to muster the votes needed to pass.
This scenario is played out all across America during elections all the time. Sometimes the issue at stake is huge and other times it is a small technical detail regarding government at some level. The point is, the process of launching a campaign to sway public opinion one way or another regarding initiatives, propositions and amendments is nothing new. So, why all of a sudden have the rules changed and those who worked to pass Proposition 8 in California are now accused of being hate mongers, bedeviled as horrible people with compassion and worst of all—racists?
Let us get one thing straight; I am not a Mormon nor do I believe much of their theology. But, what is being done more and more to the Mormon Church, leaders in the Church and even the entire state of Utah is not only ridiculous, it is setting a precedent that if not stopped will destroy free elections. I simply cannot believe some of the things being said and done by those who backed the Proposition, but lost the election.
The electoral process in this country is supposed to be free from intimidation, fear tactics and bribery. The freedom to vote one’s conscience on a matter is a right guaranteed by the United States Constitution along with those of every state. There are supposed to be safeguards in place to prohibit “thugs” from making threats if a person doesn’t vote a certain way. There are supposed to be provisions in place to keep fraud and bribery out of the election process.
Any time a state votes on a Constitutional amendment, proposition or other measure; there is bound to be passionate supporters of both sides of the issue the same way there are when electing people to positions of service. Just to get an initiative on the ballot takes volunteers canvassing neighborhoods and going door to door just to get the required number of signatures. The Secretary of State has to validate the signatures and the if all is legal, the measure is placed on the next election ballot.
Most of these measures are of little concern to most voters and thus are either skipped or skimmed over in the voting booth. But, occasionally there arises an issue which is supercharged and generates almost as much publicity as the people running for office.
In 1976 I was living in California and saw firsthand what can happen when a ballot initiative takes on a life of its own. That year, the citizens of California mustered somewhat of a tax rebellion and Proposition 13 dealt, more or less, with capping the property tax levels on homes. It was revolutionary and both sides were fanatic about either passing it or rejecting it. There was far more interest in California that year in Proposition 13 than in the Presidential election between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
Passage of Proposition 13 changed the landscape of taxes in California forever. It was a powerful issue that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court to get settled. Once it was signed into law in 1978, the provisions simply became a part of living and governing in California. After its passage, there were no riots in the streets and threats made against those who had pushed for its approval. The will of the people was recognized and respected and appropriate changes were made.
Now, 32 years later another highly charged proposition made national news in California. In a race that was not really close, the voters of California voted to repeal same sex marriages. In one sense, it could be argued; “what’s the big deal” in that numerous states have placed this issue on the ballot and usually it was defeated by a large margin. Yet, there was something different with Prop 8 in California.
Due to the California Supreme Court’s ruling to allow same sex marriage many felt the judicial branch had overstepped its authority and did not represent the will of the people. Signatures were gathered and Proposition 8 was put on the November ballot. Just as in 1976, the issue involved aroused vigorous debate by passionate people on both sides. This is exactly how the electoral process is supposed to work. But, something has gone horribly awry in California after the approval of Proposition 8 which denies legal status to same sex marriages.
Ever since the election, the forces of those whose measure was defeated have held huge rallies which have turned violent. The obscenities being thrown at those who voted to overthrow the California Supreme Court decision are truly troubling. It has been nearly a month since the election and the issue has maintained headline status due to the organized and vicious attempt to intimidate and penalize those who were perceived responsible for the passage of Prop 8.
Most experts agree that the Mormon Church along with the Catholic Church and ultra conservative groups such as Focus on the Family did more to get Prop 8 passed than anyone else. Those behind the ever growing, publicity seeking and headline grabbing moves to keep this issue in the forefront of everyone’s minds have zeroed in on one group—the Mormons. The Mormon Church has been demonized and made the sole culprit in the passage of Prop 8.
Why the Mormons and not the Catholics? Both groups were vehement on this issue. What purpose does it serve to boycott entire states? How is it advancing the cause of those who want to see same sex marriages allowed again to burn Books of Mormon on the steps of their churches? How is destroying a simple cross being carried by an old woman going to turn the tide of public opinion toward their cause?
We are getting into VERY DANGEROUS territory here. If the losing side of an election feels they have the right to demonstrate for their defeated cause that is one thing. But, to start rioting, destroying property and engaging in nonstop verbal insults with the people who voted their conscience is not only counterproductive, it is dangerous to our election system.
We must be free to vote our conscience without fear of retribution. We must be free to promote all sides of an issue without one side saying it has a monopoly on airtime and other resources. We must be free to settle these issues in the voting booth and not in the courts or worse yet—the streets. If we are going to have elections in this country, then the results of the election have to be respected and those who voted a particular way cannot be made to feel threatened or have their name, reputation, businesses or religion trashed due to how they feel on a issue.
The antics and publicity stunts being conducted by those whose cause was defeated last month need to accept the results and move on instead of the continuing the unprecedented moves to punish and threaten those who they feel were responsible for their measure’s defeat. The American way should be upheld which is to respect the will of the people, even if it is not the will of many others.