Since when do we have referendums on rights?

March 04, 2012

The Maryland legislature has passed a law to allow gay marriage. The issue should now be resolved. However, a human rights issue decided in the legislature is now poised to go to the polls.

The U.S. Constitution has many built-in features that protect minority groups from the "tyranny of the majority." The problem is that full rights have never been allotted to sexual minorities.

A rights referendum would throw Maryland back to the dark ages. Quite simply, civil rights legislation is not put to the vote. If it were, the group in the numerical majority would always win. There would be no mixed-race marriages, hoteliers would be able to decide their customers by skin colors, and kids would play on segregated playgrounds and swim in segregated pools.

"Tell me again, why couldn't we all get married in Maryland?" wondered my son, Daniel, then a second grader at Friends School. Daniel doesn't remember our first wedding: a soloist from the Army's soldiers' chorus, two pastors (one gay and one not), one ring bearer, three bridesmaids, two best men, and several white tents just in case it rained, and my very conservative father walking me down the aisle — there was not a dry eye in the place.

But we wanted to be legally married, so we flew to my brother's family in California, walked to a park with a West Hollywood councilman, had our kids read a poem of their own choosing, and then went surfing.

Ever since we officially married in California, my son has been obsessed with who is and who isn't married. In his world, marriage is all about love (not a bad world) and people should get married whenever they can. From the front seat of our Subaru, I heard them talking about a new "two mom family" at Friends. Daniel was attempting to explain the situation to a buddy, "They're not married, but they love each other, and…" He squirmed uncomfortably, "You know, they live in Virginia."

Julie Mertus, Baltimore

The writer is a professor of human rights at American University.

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