When a Democracy Goes Wrong

By: Heather Ellerbrock

The other day while driving in the car with my dad, he told me a story about a 16 year old who upon exiting the highway way to fast, hit a bump and proceeded to flip his car in the air over two lanes of traffic landing on a hill hundreds of feet away from where this all started. We then got into a conversation about how parents, teachers, etc. in response to such reckless driving from teenagers immediately provide a solution of raising the driving age instead if attacking the problem head on (i.e. require drivers ed for all and at least 1 year, from 15-16, of driving with a permit and so on). Then I saw this video made by Protect Families (the group responsible for Prop. 8 in California):

Despite the fact that I think this video is pure propaganda, just like the adults who believe the solution to reckless teenage driving is to raise the driving age, these parents believe banning gay marriage is the solution to ensure their young children are not taught it in school (instead of coming to a consensus with the school board and community, etc that waiting until sex ed to introduce the idea of homosexual marriage is a better idea…as, in the video, the parents themselves say). On a side note, notice these parents say that because gay marriage is legal and they disagree with it, it is only now they are bigots; and how can you teach gay marriage in mathematics?

Moving on…

After the conversation with my dad, and after viewing the video, I looked to a New York Times Article titled, “Mormons Tipped Scale in Ban on Gay Marriage” and this got me thinking. How can a democracy be the best answer when special interest groups are able to impose their views on an out-group in a totalitarian way? Now, I am in no way suggesting I do not believe in democracy. I am simply stating that it has become too easy for 48% to become an unrepresented minority. Furthermore, through the simplicities of putting  measures on ballots that represent special interests – in this case gay marriage – the line between church and state is becoming more and more gray each passing year. In reference to Prop. 8, a member who was part of the fund raising for the propositions passing had the following to say: “I ask for your prayers that this e-mail will open the hearts and minds of the faithful to make a further sacrifice of their funds at this urgent moment so that God’s precious gift of marriage is preserved.” Many will argue that if gay marriage was the majority, there would still be a ~48% minority that would disapprove of the measure. I say to them that at least they can marry the person they love.

So now, after talking to my dad, seeing the “Protect Families” video and realizing that the main reason Prop. 8 did not pass was in most part because of one special interest group, I then looked to Colorado who in the 2008 election actually tried to address this problem; at least when it came to constitutional initiatives (remember, in 2006 gay marriage was banned in Colorado). As most of you may recall, on Colorado’s ballot this year we had Ref. O which aimed to “make it harder” for constitutional initiatives to make it on the ballot. This would have included (1) a signature requirement amount equal to 6% of votes cast for most recent governor and (2) 8% of all signatures to be collected from each congressional district. Once again, and in a way that can only be seen a sheer irony, the minority that Ref. O was trying to protect lost by 48-52%.

In my opinion and judgment, this all boils down to religion. Now let me preface this with saying I am not attacking religion. I am saying that when it comes to issues that appear on ballots each year concerning gay marriage, abortion, etc., these measures are able to appear on the ballot from fund raising that mainly comes from religious institutions. And since they are not required (at least in Colorado) to gain signatures from all congregational districts, they can then pick and choose where they will most likely get signatures for the measure. Think about Amendment 48, it failed famously but was able to appear on the ballot. 1/6 of all Amendment 48’s “Yes” vote came from El Paso county alone (compare with 1/15 total of “Yes” votes coming from Denver). I wonder where the people who wanted the measure on the ballot focused their efforts?

A democracy goes wrong when we are able to put amendments on constitutions that take away rights from people. Instead of attacking the problem from the inside out and coming to a consensus, a small majority gets to define what life will be for other Americans. Just as most are irrational to think that raising the driving age to 18 will cure reckless “teenage” driving, the same people are just as irrational to think that denying rights to deserving American citizens is their right in our democracy.


Filed under American Electorate, Colorado, Religion, Uncategorized

7 responses to “When a Democracy Goes Wrong

  1. balaban13


    I would have to disagree with you on the whole concept of “When a Democracy Goes Wrong”. Democracy is a concept which is centered on a Majority rule. If in general you agree with the idea that Democracy is the best political system comparing to others, then you have to live with the consequences no matter how bad they are. Majorities have always tried to limit the rights of the minorities and that’s why we have a Constitution that suppose to protect those rights.

    Having said that, I do think that the passing of proposition 8 was absolutely horrible and I hope that the US Supreme court shuts it down. But for the life of me, I still can’t understand why would Mormons of all groups support this Amendment to the CA constitution.

  2. There is something called “Tyranny Of The Majority”, and it is by far the worst thing about democracy.

    It’s why we had slavery, no women voting, no interracial marriage. The constitution existed back then and didn’t help them, so no, the mere existence of the constitution doesn’t actually DO anything — just look at the Bush Administration.

  3. balaban13


    I’m not in any way trying to deny historical precedents that have represented the Tyranny of the Majority. However, if you believe in the whole concept of Democracy, then you have to accept the good and the bad results, no matter what.

    Btw, if you look at the issue of slavery, no women voting and other examples, this was hardly an example of Tyranny by the Majority. I would argue that this is an example of minority ruling a majority, since the only voters for a long time were land owning white males.

  4. Heather Ellerbrock

    I do not agree with you that if you accept democracy then you have to accept “Tyranny of the Majority”. You can still have a democracy with more protections to the minority. Look at term limits. They are in place to protect the minority so that one party cannot have absolute rule. When it comes to citizen initiated laws (ballot initiatives and amendments) then there is no protection in place for the minority.
    Furthermore, I had stated in my post that this all boils down to the lack of separation of church and state. When it comes to an issue such as gay marriage, it is almost 100% of the time struck down because of religious purposes. This goes against our constitution therefore democracy has gone wrong.
    Lastly, calling the white male landing owning voters the “minority ruling the majority” is contradicting your argument that we must accept the good and bad results. Since the white male land owners were the voters then they were the majority were they not?

    Thank you for your input.

  5. balaban13

    Heather, let me see if I can explain this to you in a different way. I’m not trying to argue on whether the Prop 8 is right or wrong. You’ve totally missed my point. All I’m saying is that in the Democracy, propositions like that have a chance of passing due to the nature of the democratic process. If you want to argue constitutionality of the prop, that’s fine and I’ll support you on this. But Democracy in itself represents the majority rule concept, there’s no way to get around it.

    Let me give you another example. Fillibuster in the Senate is setup to prevet the so called Tyranny of the Majority. However, if Dems do get to 60, then Republicans in theory will have no way in stopping the other party in passing the legislation. Now, you might agree with the laws Congress might pass, but as far as Republicans are concerned, the Democrats are actings as Tyrants. However, this particular situation was created by having the people of this country vote overwhelmingly for the Democrats.

    Finally, I never contradicted myself in my last point. If you read it carefully, I actually pointed out that slavery was never caused by Tyranny of the Majority.

  6. Heather Ellerbrock

    I never took your comment as a stance for or against Prop. 8. I have a feeling that we are passing right by each other in our arguments.

  7. Tony Robinson

    I really enjoyed this post and the comments back and forth. Now for my own two cents:

    1) Heather and Leo and Clint all bring forth good points, and I think Heather is right that they aren’t disagreeing as much as it appears on the surface, and the arguments are passing by each other a bit. Here’s my take on the “democracy requires acceptance of rule by the majority” claim of Leo. Yes, under one definition or theory of democracy, someone committed to democracy would have to be committed to majority rule, right or wrong, in all circumstances, since the very definition of democracy tends to be “majority of the people rule.” So Prop 8 is not an example of “when democracy goes wrong’ under this definition–it is an example of democracy working as the definition states it should.

    But, it could definitely be argued that democracy depends on underlying civil rights, and that any system that subjects these rights to votes of the people isn’t democratic, or isn’t democratic for long. In other words, the majority of people could vote to deny all women the right to speak or vote, and deny all jews the right to vote, and subject all children to torture, and to require all people to only vote for a certain party in all elections. A majority could approve of and vote for all th ese things–but would we call such a system “democratic,” simply because the majority voted for it? Well, we might call that specific vote democratic, but we wouldn’t call the overall system democratic, or certainly not for long, since all sorts of people would have lost their right to vote, or right to life, etc.

    That is why constitutional protections of free speech and privacy, and against torture, or against unreasonable searches, can be said to be “democratic,” even if they prohibit the majority from overturning such protections. Civil liberty protections preserve the foundation on which the long-term health and existence of a democracy depends–and they should not be subject to popular vote. Heather is arguing from this perspective, I believe, when she says that “democracy has gone wrong” in eliminating civil liberties. Yes, the majority voted (which is superficially democratic), but when the majority votes to undermine the conditions on which a democracy depends (by restricting vital rights), then it can certainly be argued that the people have created an anti-democratic (long-term) result.

    As for that freaky video about how the kid was being “forced” to deal with adult issues like homosexuality–my initial response is that this is nothing more than uneducated and superstitious homophobia disguised as high-minded concern for their children. Children at very young ages are constantly read books about princes marrying princesses, about mommies and daddies raising their children, etc. and we we don’s see this as “forcing kids to deal with adult issues of sexuality.”

    A child is not “dealing with sexuality” in an adult way when they hear about the prince rescuing the princess or about the mommy marrying the daddy…nor are they doing so when they hear about two princes marrying each other or two mommies raising their baby. In fact, the young child thinks nothing of it when hearing of two mommies raising a baby (I have a two year old and have such books, and I can definitely say she enjoys and delights in the book as much as she does in the man-woman scenario books). Children at young ages are not freaked out or forced to “deal” with homosexuality–their parents put such panic into their children when they blow their gaskets that their child actually heard such a book.

    Homosexuality is not pathological, it is not a disease or a sickness to be “dealt with” by the child, it is not a dark secret to be hidden until th echild is ready to hear about in sex ed. It is a normal part of society, it is natural, and their are children in school whose parents are in fact homosexual. There is no problem with allowing those children to see their family situation played out in books, even at a young age, just as we delight in reading our kids books about cinderella and the prince, at the youngest of ages.

    To argue otherwise is to argue that homosexuality is somehow dark and abhorrent, is to push kids who may in fact be homosexual to later self-hatred and esteem issues, and is to hide the reality of our society as a “dark secret” from our children. That never results in a healthy outcome.

    If the couple in this video were talking about a book showing an interracial couple as being “too much” for their child to handle, we would rightly condemn them. This is no different.

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