Tyranny of the Majority in Maine

Maine voters have repealed a law permitting gay marriage. But why does there need to be a law permitting gay marriage in the first place? How can there be a law forbidding gay marriage in a free society? Civil and human rights are not subject to popular vote. They exist as unalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Supposing these rights are inalienable, two (or more) individuals may only be denied the status of marriage—if the state recognizes any marriage—only if there is a compelling secular reason for denying them marriage. I have been asking people for years now to give me a compelling secular reason for denying marriage for gays and lesbians. I have to put the word “secular” in there because, if I don’t, people give me religious reasons which they should already know carry no weight in a society based on the separation of church and state.

For most of our history, in states throughout our nation, the white majority denied the right of black and white men and women to marry. Those laws were overturned by the Supreme Court in 1967 because they represented a fundamental violation of civil and human rights. If the state sanctions marriage, then it is not treating individuals equally when it denies marriage to some consenting adults while permitting it for other consenting adults.

The same principle applies to gay marriage. This is not an argument by analogy. It is an argument of principle. By denying gays and lesbians their right to marry—and they have that right whether it is recognized or not—the majority of voters in Maine demonstrate that they do not cherish the fundamental tenets of a free society. What Maine voters have done, in fact, is impose a tyranny of the majority in Maine.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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