Last week the small country of Ireland rocked the rest of the world when its voters went to the polls and overwhelmingly approved gay marriage. That's right. Instead of tying a subject of that importance up in some legislative or judicial process, the people themselves decided. What a concept!
The idea of people voting directly on laws is known as direct democracy. We have that in the United States, sometimes and in sporadic locations - such as the famous New England town hall meetings and when a legislative body punts a question to the public because it is too controversial for elected officials to deal with - but usually laws in our country are drafted by legislatures or clarified by courts. We elect people directly who then draft our laws - something called an indirect democracy.
The idea with an indirect democracy is that there is too much legislation required and people simply do not have the time or the knowledge to address every issue personally - so we elect people to represent us in the drafting of laws. The problem is that those representatives are often hijacked by special interests who give them cold, hard cash and other favors in return for their votes - and the representatives wind up representing those special interests rather than the people who elected them.
I love to tell the story about an election that occurred in Missouri twenty years or so ago where the people actually got to vote on an important issue. It was at the time when the National Rifle Association was pushing "concealed carry" bills through many state legislatures. The NRA does not believe in democracy, nor do they practice it. They wanted those bills to be a part of the legislative process - something they could purchase and control.
But some maverick Democrats in the Missouri Legislature managed a maneuver which took the bill out of the legislature and placed it before the public - and the public voted it down! During the next legislative session the new legislature brought the measure back up again and passed it, thus correcting the public's error and fulfilling the paid-for wishes of their lords and masters - the National Rifle Association.
It is much, much easier to buy off (or coerce) a few dozen legislators than it is to buy off a majority of citizens of an entire state. But, sadly even that is changing. With the Supreme Court decision of Citizens United, money is now deemed "speech" and corporations, special interests, and fascist billionaires are free to spend to their hearts' content to get their "speech" onto our airwaves and into our faces. Whole populations can, in effect, be bought.
In spite of all this political skulduggery, I remain optimistic that things eventually will change for the better. Sooner or later the Koch family or the Waltons will produce a prodigal outlier who has the conscience of a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffett, and some tiny measure of good will begin to seep into the family money bins. Eventually things change despite the barriers that we erect to prevent change. Just ask those good folks in staunchly Catholic Ireland.
Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark. Just yesterday Greenland's parliament voted to incorporate Denmark's liberal laws on gay marriage and gay adoption into its own legal code. In the United States a Supreme Court decision will be handed down in June that could conceivably make gay marriage the law of our land.
And, of course, if Americans could vote on gay marriage, directly, in a national referendum, it likely would already be the law of the land.
But things like gay rights, abortion rights, and gun rights are too important to be left to the whimsy of the voting public. Those are critical issues that must be debated and decided by our big-brained politicians as they wallow in the green, green
They will take care of us - until the day comes when we are finally able to take care of them.