One way of reading New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's call to put marriage equality on the ballot is to say that he "avoids all the thorns in the thicket." Another, as expressed by Newark Mayor Cory Booker, is that it is plain "infuriating." Put fiscal issues up for a referendum, Mayor Booker said. Ask people to vote on a millionaires tax to create more millionaires.
But dear God, we should not be putting civil rights issues to a popular vote, to be subject to the sentiments, the passions of the day. No minority should have their rights subject to the passions and sentiments of the majority. This is a fundamental bedrock of what our nation stands for.
I get very concerned that we have created in our state, and we refuse to address and call it like it is, that we’ve created a second-class citizenship in our state. That’s what we have in America right now, we have two classes of citizenship. Jackie Robinson said the right of every American to first-class citizenship is the most important issue of our time.
I read the 14th Amendment clearly. It talks about equal protection under the laws, and that was never something that should go out to a popular vote, whether blacks, women or other minorities should be equal, first-class citizens.
FWIW, the Philadelphia Inquirer quotes Governor Christie as saying, "I think people would have been happy to have a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets in the South." I'm not sure which "people" he would be talking about.
In other news, activists for marriage equality in Maine announced that they will use the 100,000 signatures they've gathered -- nearly double the amount needed -- to ask for a referendum on the issue. When the rights of the minority were last put to a popular vote in Maine, in 2009, the state vetoed marriage for same-sex couples by 53-47. From the Portland Press-Herald:
Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine, said polling by gay marriage supporters indicates 54 percent of state residents now support gay marriage.
"The number of signatures we gathered and the thoughtful conversations we've been having with voters tell us that Mainers are eager to speak on this question again," she said.
The juxtaposition of what's happening in New Jersey with the news from Maine is striking and even strange. For the record, marriage equality has almost always lost in the referendum process -- 33 losses to one win, by Nate Silver's calculation earlier this year.