A group called Citizens for the Protection
of Marriage began circulating a petition throughout the state that
would put the question of a state constitutional gay marriage ban
on the November ballot. Using direct democracy, CPM proposes to
circumvent the state Legislature, which rejected a similar
amendment on March 9. Should the group acquire the necessary number
of signatures, voters will be asked to ratify or reject the ban.
This move perverts the intent of direct democracy by using the will
of the majority to impose unfairly on the minority.
Direct democracy allows voters to alter state laws, as well as
the state constitution, without the consent of the Legislature.
While this approach may be useful in determining matters of
procedure — for example, the pay of state legislators —
it is dangerous when applied to questions such as gay marriage. The
use of ballot initiatives offers interest groups a loophole when
the usual channels of policy-making close. CPM has simply chosen to
exploit this loophole after failing to engender the necessary
support within the state Legislature.
This form of direct democracy is potentially dangerous because
it hardly is an instrument of popular protest. Gathering the
necessary number of signatures — 317,757 — is a
convoluted ordeal requiring an immense organization with abundant
funds. As a result, it is usually those issues that enjoy support
from powerful elites that make their way onto a ballot. The goal of
restoring authority to average people is completely subverted.
It is interesting that the CPM has decided to use a ballot
initiative to promote its agenda. Direct democracy was born out of
a desire to protect the citizens from abusive government. In this
case, the state House did what was necessary to protect the
citizens it represents — it properly rejected the mandated
exclusion of gay couples from legal marriage. In a peculiar
perversion of direct democracy, CPM is undercutting a legislative
decision to curtail the rights of citizens.
Like the constitutional amendment that failed to clear the state
House, CPM’s amendment seeks to legalize exclusion. The
petition asks voters to ratify a policy that gives some Michigan
citizens more rights than others, creating a legally sanctioned
“second class.” The state House refused to affirm this
ban; even some opponents of gay marriage voted against it because
they felt the constitution was no place for such a policy. While
the March 9 vote was a victory for equal rights, the CPM initiative
threatens to be a setback. Clearly, the promise of equal rights for
all citizens is by no means secure.
CPM has no interest in protecting marriage — its aim is to
constrain it. The campaign to overrule the Legislature and enact a
socially conservative agenda is a shameful exploitation of direct