Staff Editorial: A majority vote should not determine civil rights

On Tuesday Jan. 24, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said that he would take the question of same-sex marriage in his state to a public referendum rather than sign a bill if one were to be passed by the state legislature. Then on Tuesday Feb. 8, the Ninth United States Circuit Court of Appeals found California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage – Proposition 8 – unconstitutional. We applaud the Circuit Court's decision as a true act of justice while we condone Christie's proposal as a criminal misunderstanding of justice and humanity. 

Apparently this point needs to be repeated: civil rights, especially for minority populations, are not to be granted or denied by way of popular vote. Specifically, it does not matter at all how many Americans think people should be able to marry someone of the same sex because what is right is not determined by popular vote. 

Yes, we are a democratic country. Yes, people get to vote for their government representatives. And in many cases, people get to vote on the policies that their representatives are debating. This is good – a government which allows its people to freely communicate their sentiments and beliefs to their elected representatives is a freer government than one that does not do so, and freer is better. 

But there's a problem with Christie's proposal to allow people to vote on same-sex marriage: We're talking about the civil rights of a minority and putting the decision up to a majority vote. The fallacy should be obvious and it is captured in the phrase "tyranny of the majority." A referendum on marriage equality, as proposed by Christie, would amount to no more than the legalization and codification of a majority's oppression of a minority. That is unacceptable in the United States of America in the 21st century.

Instead, lawmakers ought to do the right thing – which is determined not by popular vote but by rigorous reasoning – and protect the rights of minorities by passing law regardless of what their constituents believe. When that situation doesn't materialize, and a majority votes to suppress the rights of the minority – as was the case with California's Proposition 8 – then the court system ought to step in and set things right, again, regardless of what voters say. 

Gov. Christie, we understand that when you're a white heterosexual man it's tempting to think that just voting on everything works but please take a more critical look at history next time you talk about civil rights.u