Bart Whiteman: What Does Sixty-Five Percent Mean?

Monday, May 30, 2005 - by Bart Whiteman

Recently, several local media sources have been reporting the fact that a 65% majority of Tennesseans support an anti-gay marriage amendment to the Constitution as if this information was worthy of reporting or some sort of surprise. What should be a surprise is that 35% of Tennesseans don’t support such a move. This is such an easy bandwagon to get on.

There is very little threat to oneself in preaching or supporting discrimination against gay couples. They are not exactly likely to be out there taking over public buildings or leading urban riots. Their economic leverage is miniscule.

You have to wonder who or what is pushing for this fact to get it such broad coverage. It is not exactly new news. The numbers haven’t changed much and are unlikely to do so for the foreseeable future. Is it news that people harbor bigotry in their souls and try to dress it up with religious pronunciations and documentation or claims that the “majority” supports the curtailment of someone else’s life and options?

If “majority” support were the criteria for everything, we would live in a very bizarre world indeed. For years, during the suffragette movement, the majority of women didn’t think they had the right to vote. Men knew best how to make important decisions. The “majority” of Germans voted Adolf Hitler into power knowing full well what he stood for and supported him right up until the end. You could probably find some who still do. You probably could have taken a poll among Black slaves in America around 1750 and learned that the “majority” preferred the known perils of slavery as opposed to the unknown perils of freedom.

In fact, most of the Earth’s wiser and better developments have started as minority actions, sometimes a minority of one. Many of these “ones” are now household names – Columbus, Einstein, Wright, Luther, Edison, Walton, Ford et al, and even Jesus. If any of these people had waited for majority support, they’d be waiting still. It takes time for a majority to be won over or to see the light, sometimes a long time. Didn’t the “majority” of the throng vote to have Jesus crucified when they had the chance? Pilate just counted the votes.

People will always favor what they know, the familiar ground. Very few Tennesseans have had to deal with the reality of gay marriage. Most gay people move away from places like Tennessee when they can. A few remain, mostly in the closet. I once taught at a prominent boy’s school in Tennessee where it was obvious that if anyone were to actually be “overt” on campus, they would probably get killed. It very nearly happened.

In the sort of environment of ignorance and malice that exists around this issue in Tennessee, we are supposed to put a firm belief in and commitment to any precipitous action like amending the Constitution? It is a sad commentary that this revered document has been devalued to the point of being a nothing more than a volleyball that can be batted and blown around in the wind, subject to the whim of every kook and their cousins. Sadder still is that we have among us “educated” politicians who should know better, but still prey upon these prejudicial matters in order to gain political favor and electoral victory.

It may be a long time before the “majority” of people are comfortable with the idea of gay marriage. However, the issue is hardly going to go away even if the Constitution is amended. Somehow I believe there was a grander purpose to its design than the chore of fencing people in.

As fate would have it, our Founding Fathers seemed to understand this perverse inclination of mankind and included numerous items in the Constitution that needed a two-thirds majority to override or vote in. Simple majorities were not good enough to stem and check the tide of fashion, trend, inclination, popularity, and all the other attendant ills of large groups of people. You had to do something a little more than temporarily convincing most of the people in the room to get your way.

Lately, there has been a movement afoot to do away with this safeguard in practically every instance. Everything is to be decided by a simple majority, no matter how slim. The “majority” is in a pout and wants to change the rules so they can have it all. 65% support of the gay marriage ban would mean that they are still two percentage points away from reaching even the Constitutional threshold. The answer: do away with the Constitutional threshold. Dialogue, reason, compromise, the art of argumentation, and the art of the deal are becoming lost arts and are giving way to locked steps and locked minds. Why be artful when you have money and might?

At some point, this masterful “majority” will have to come to grips with the basic transitory nature of human and all existence on the planet. “And the first shall be last…”

Bart Whiteman

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