Mark D. White
My stomach turns at the news that Uganda is set to pass a law that imposes life sentences and sometimes the death sentence for homosexual acts:
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Uganda's anti-gay bill will be passed before the end of 2012 despite international criticism of the draft legislation, the speaker of the country's parliament said Monday, insisting it is what most Ugandans want.
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga told The Associated Press that the bill, which originally mandated death for some gay acts, will become law this year.
Ugandans "are demanding it," she said, reiterating a promise she made before a meeting on Friday of anti-gay activists who spoke of "the serious threat" posed by homosexuals to Uganda's children. Some Christian clerics at the meeting in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, asked the speaker to pass the law as "a Christmas gift."
This is John Stuart Mill's tyranny of the majority at its ugliest: a majority of citizens using the machinery of government to negate the rights of the minority.
Many Americans rejoiced at the success of same-sex marriage referenda in last Tuesday's election, and certainly there was tremendous cause for celebration. But why should gays and lesbians have had to wait for a majority of the electorate to "come around" and "grant" same-sex couples the same access to civil marriage that straight people have? Before this election all same-sex marriage referenda were voted down--a far cry from what Uganda is doing, to be sure, but the spirit is the same, a majority deciding what rights a minority may have.
As I've argued several times on this blog (here and here, for instance), it is a poor validation of basic human rights to have the majority of the electorate vote for them (as encouraging as it may be in reflecting changing attitudes). Gays and lesbians shouldn't have to have their basic rights be "granted" to them by the electorate. They should be recognized as having existed all along by the only institution that can do that: the courts.
The court in Brown v. Board of Education didn't say that "now" segregation is wrong--it said it had always been wrong. The court in Loving v. Virginia didn't say that "now" laws against mixed-race marriage are wrong--it said they have always been wrong. And when the Supreme Court decides that same-sex couple should have the right to marry, they will not say that "now" same-sex couples have that right, but that they have always had that right--and it just took a while for the law to catch up.