Thursday, August 5, 2010

An Objectivist Understanding of the Overturning of Proposition 8

Yesterday, in a post on Facebook, I expoused the viewpoint that Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling overturning Proposition 8 -- California's ban on gay marriage -- was a state's rights issue. The citizens of California voted via referendum to ban gay marriage in their state and I am a firm believer in the right of the electorate to turn to the polls to decide matters of political importance to the state and its constituents.

However, I now realize that my argument was fundamentally flawed and is not in line with Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy, which I claim to be a disciple of. Furthermore, my assertion only worked to propel the dangerous and false notion forward that "collective rights", or the rights of a group or mob of people, trump the "personal rights" of private, independent citizens.

In "The Virtue of Selfishness", Rand devotes two short chapters to the individual rights and the nature of government. Rand makes it clear that the nature of government is such that its only reason for existence is to protect individual rights by placing the "relaiatory use of physical force under objective control -- i.e., under objectively defined laws." The authors of the Declaration of Independence further expounded upon the role of government in the lives of individuals when they stated: "to secure these [individual] rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just power from the consent of the governed..."

Seeing as the protection of individual rights is the only legitimate reason underpinning the existence of government, that end should be the only aim and goal behind all legislation. "All laws must be based on individual rights and aimed at their protection." The fountainhead of a government's power is derived from "the consent of the governed." As such, the government is not the ruler of men, but rather the servant or "agent" of the citizens. "It means that the government as such has no rights except the rights delegated to it by the citizens for a specific purpose."

This leads us to the concept of collectivized "rights" as juxtaposed to individual rights. A country such as the United States is only a collection of individuals, and can not have any rights save those that it's individual components possess. We, as citizens, may disagree on exactly what form of government works best towards the maintenance of individual rights, but we agree on the basic principle for which that government is to be constituted: the principle of individual rights. Rand goes on to explain under what circumstances individual citizens may legislate new laws via referendum and the majority vote:

"When a country's constitution places individual rights outside the reach of public authorities, the sphere of political power is severely delimited -- and thus the citizens may, safely and properly, agree to abide by the decisions of a majority vote in this delimited sphere. The lives and property of minorities or dissenters are not at stake, are not subject to vote and are not endangered by any majority decision; no man or group holds a blank check on power over others."

Individual rights, clearly and unequivocally, are not subject to a public vote. The majority in a country has absolutely no rights to vote away the rights of a minority. "The political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual)"

That is exactly what the voters of the state of California attempted to do when they went to the polls and voted via referendum to ban gay marriage in their state. They were attempting to force feed their moral principles down the throats of a dissenting minority whose only aim is to exercise the individual rights that are their divine rights as men and women. So called conservatives on the right of the political spectrum, whose base is composed of faith-based groups -- specifically evangelical Christians, are attempting to weave their perverted philosophical understanding of a document with questionable authenticity and origins (to be nice about the origins of the Bible) into the fabric of American jurisprudence, which itself is derived from the greatest testament to the sovereignty of the individual the modern world has ever known -- The Constitution of the United States of America.

"A society that robs an individual of the product of his effort, or enslaves him, or compels him to act against his own rational judgement -- a society that sets up a conflict between its edicts and the requirements of man's nature -- is not, strictly speaking, a society, but a mob held together by institutionalized gang rule. Such a society destroys all the values of human coexistence, has no possible justification and represents, not a source of benefits, but the deadliest threat to man's survival. Life on a desert island is safer than and incomparably preferable to existence in Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany."

The supporters of Proposition 8 may still rightly supoort a ban on gay marriage in the private institutions that serve as their source of moral and spiritual guidance. As Judge Vaughn Walker, in his opinion, stated:

"Marriage in the United States has always been a civil matter. Civil authorities may permit religious leaders to solemnize marriages but not to determine who may enter or leave a civil marriage. Religious leaders may determine independently whether to recognize a civil marriage or divorce but that recognition or lack thereof has no effect on the relationship under state law."

Judge Walker goes on to the cite the California constitution when he writes:

"[A]ffording same-sex couples the opportunity to obtain the designation of marriage will not impinge upon the religious freedom of any religious organization, official, or any other person; no religion will be required to change its religious policies or practices with regard to same-sex couples, and no religious officiant will be required to solemnize a marriage in contravention of his or her religious beliefs."

The District Judge makes it clear when he states, in all capital letters, that:

A PRIVATE MORAL VIEW THAT SAME-SEX COUPLES ARE INFERIOR TO OPPOSITE-SEX COUPLES IS NOT A PROPER BASIS FOR LEGISLATION...California's obligation is to treat its citizens equally, not to "mandate [its] own moral code."

And thus I must come to the same conclusion that Ayn Rand did in 1961 and that Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker did yesterday and align myself with his court's decision to overturn Proposition 8 and the ban on gay marriage in the state of California. It is not a state's rights issue as I originally asserted because a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority. Furthermore, a government can not support a ban on gay marriage because a government, in of itself, has no rights save those delegated to it by it's individual constituents (the consent of the governed). The government can not usurp the individual rights of it's citizens without necessarily impinging upon the source of it's own existence.

In a nutshell, a vote (or potential decision by the Robert's led Supreme Court) to ban gay marriage would be tantamount to hammering home the final nail in the coffin of the concept of individual liberty. The right to live as we please so long as it doesn't hurt anyone is something that we can all agree is a key component to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, no matter what shade of red or blue your glasses are tinted in.


  1. I love this post almost as much as I love being right. Thank you for such a thoughtfully researched retraction.