The Tyranny of the Majority and Gay Rights

I was interested to hear on the news last night that Newt Gingrich feels that the values of the American public are being violated by court decisions to let homosexuals marry persons of the same gender.  The values of the American people, like the American people ourselves, are many and diverse.  If one wants to look at what we value as a country, one can look at the chart for when the United States became a country, the day the constitution went into effect, March 4, 1789, and look at Venus.  We value the unusual, eclectic, sparkling, electric, egalitarian, intuitive, to name a few adjectives, ideas, cars, neighborhoods, schools, phones, to name a few nouns.   However, values are not what are at issue.  What are at issue are rights.  Rights fall under Jupiter.  Our rights are emotional, patriotic, motherly, protective, hypersensitive, to name a few adjectives, and center around our sexuality, our joint finances, taxation, insurance, the speech and communications of our people, to name a few nouns.  Our values and our rights have a hard time coming to terms with each other, the two are in a relationship of anxiety and insecurity.  In terms of how we are progressing as a nation, our values and our rights are coming to a point of struggle, as we try to integrate our current pride in our rights with our current sexual values (I am not making this up.)

Gay marriage is not really about sex.  Gay marriage is about love, two persons who love each other and want to devote themselves to each other on, for some, religiously sanctioned, and, for all, politically sanctioned levels.

In 1992, the National Opinion Research Center, a survey research firm associated with the University of Chicago, administered a survey for a group of sociologists studying American sexual behavior.  The results of the survey are in the book, Sex in America, A Definitive Survey, by R. T. Michael, J. H. Gagnon, E. O. Laumann, and G. Kolata, published by CSG Enterprise, Inc. in 1994.  I have the 1995 Warner Books edition.  The authors found that the rate of self identification as homosexual among men was 2.8 percent and among women was 1.4 percent. So, persons identifying themselves as homosexual in 1992 were quite rare.

As an aside, I have a Ph.D. in statistics and my area of specialization in statistics is in survey sampling. I have worked part time for the Iowa State Statistical Laboratory (I received my statistics degrees from Iowa State), an organization similar to the National Opinion Research Center.  I have been disturbed the past few years at what I see as force of some kind to discredit survey sampling.  I do not know where the force is coming from.  I have conjectured that President G. W. Bush is behind the force, since survey statisticians in Iraq found an estimate of numbers of civilian casualties far above what our government acknowledged.  Or, maybe, the religious right is pushing the right’s anti-science kick (which I think is a backlash against the pain caused by sexual experimentation, which experimentation, I think, occurred out of the ideas and logic of the thinkers and writers of the last few centuries, rather than out of a scientific understanding of sex.  I think that the religious right tends to confuse ideas with science.)  Or, perhaps people just find it strange that a small sample from a population can be representative of a large population.  I really do not know what force is behind the attempt to discredit survey sampling, but I do think it is happening.  I will say that the science behind survey sampling is as solid as the science that lets you flip a switch to turn on a light in the dark and the science that lets you turn a key and move a 2000 pound vehicle as many miles as you like and can afford and the science that brought us computers and the Internet.  Remember, common sense once told us the earth is flat and the sun revolves around the earth and itty bitty germs could not possibly cause health to fail.

That written, the numbers found by the National Opinion Research Council should be reasonably close to the true numbers within the American population in 1992.  There were 3432 respondents out of a sample size of 4369 eligible households in the survey.  About half of the respondents were men and about half were women.

We are a representative democracy.  Alexis de Tocqueville, a Frenchman visiting America in the 1830’s, was very interested in our American experiment and how the experiment compared to European experiences with revolution.  De Tocqueville coined the phrase, “the tyranny of the majority”, to express his concern that in a democracy, the rights of the few would tend to be trampled by the electoral power of the majority.  I have not read De Tocqueville, though I did leaf through an edition of his Democracy in America in preparation for writing this.  I will give you my take on the tyranny of the majority and the American political system.  Our legislators make laws.  Our courts enforce laws.  Our Supreme Courts decide if laws are constitutional.  Legislators are up for election often, so, as society changes, we are quite flexible in changing our laws.  Our Supreme Court justices are not so vulnerable to public whim, since justices, at least in Iowa and the nation, are appointed and, usually, are not removed.  The main purpose of Supreme Courts is to decide constitutionality, that is, to interpret what our rights are and are not, based on our constitutions.  Constitutions can be changed, but only with a great deal of effort and consensus.  My belief is that our constitutions protect our minorities from the tyrannies of our majorities.  While laws can change quickly, reflecting changes in society, constitutions, which change far more slowly, provide a base for the rights that we give ourselves and protect us from ourselves.  Even though all of our laws and structures are self created, that is, we govern ourselves, we have put some protection into the system against whims of the majority.

Homosexuality has been reviled for centuries, if not for all of human history.  Personally, I do not believe people choose to be homosexual, although when it comes to homosexual acts, we make choices.  I guess research is showing that homosexuality is more inherent than a choice, though I cannot cite any particular research.  If the incidence of inherent homosexuality is 2 or 3 percent, homosexuals are a rare group, a small minority.

Over the past few decades, the homosexual community has begun to interact with the majority.  However, the majority of people in this country are not comfortable with homosexuality, at least that is what I am told the polls say.  In some states, the courts are starting to protect the rights of the small homosexual minority against the tyranny of the majority.  I say, kudos to courts in Iowa (where I live) and Connecticut and Vermont and Massachusetts and New Hampshire and California.  Gay marriage really is about rights not values.

Lest people say marriage is a religious institution, I am not religious, but, as a heterosexual, I certainly have the right to marry, and have.

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