Sunday, September 23, 2007

Political Suicide, before your very eyes.

Jerry Sanders is the mayor of San Diego, California. He's a Republican, and part of his most recent election campaign was promising to oppose legislation concerning the legalization of same-sex marriage.

On September 19th, he called a press conference and announced his intention to support a resolution attempting to overturn California's same-sex marriage ban. This is what he said:

Many theorize that this is the end of his political career. It is, to my knowledge, the only political statement that has ever brought me to tears.

It caused sober reflection, however. Here is a man who changed his position based on a feeling of what is right; a feeling that the constitution and freedoms of the United States cannot apply just to some people. How is he different from the pharmacy clerk who will not fill a contraceptive prescription? Both feel that their cause is righteous. Both agonize over the decisions. Both war with their personal vs. professional ethics.

Why is it I support the mayor, but frown at the pharmacist? Is it only because I support one ideal, but not the other? I would be ashamed if it were. Both are individual people making decisions which effect many more people. Both are is positions of power, supported by people expecting them to operate in a certain fashion. What do they owe to the people who support them?

Whenever political conservatives decry "activist judges", this is the sort of behavior they dislike: a unilateral approach to decision-making, which excludes expected behaviors. And so many times in the last years, I have heard politicians speaking of "the American People". As in, "the American People won't stand for this" or "the American People know we need to spend these dollars" or "the American People want to live in a world free of terror". Statements spoken as if the people were a massive cube of uniform consistency.

What is the place in our society for the person who stands as an individual and says "I will not allow this"? Are they whistleblowers? Are they patriots? Are they activists? Are they fools? How does one slice the cake of subjectivity so that one cuts out the rogue ideas, while allowing the true visionaries to speak?

Are there differences? Will "the American People" decide if some people are saints and some radicals? I watched the first episode of Ken Burns' "The War" on PBS tonight. It touched on the Japanese internment during the days after Pearl Harbor. American citizens forced to leave their homes and belongings and relocated to the deserts. No one spoke up. Many people privately thought, "Why is this happening?", but no one questioned it out loud.

One of the purposes of our laws is to protect the minorities from the tyranny of the majority. Can we function if people have different standards for what is right and good and true? When is the law too protective? When it's telling you who you can and cannot marry? When it's telling you that you must dispense a drug that will result in what you consider a murder?

And what does this have to do with a man explaining that he cannot face his daughter and explain that she's not allowed to do what "normal" people can?

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