Runcible Blog

letter to the editor

Your editorial from Sunday, June 17th ("Debate, votes are part of democracy") demonstrated a fundamental and dangerous misunderstanding of our Constitution. You wrote, "rights are codified in constitutions and their amendments, all of which are voted into existence by the people or their elected representatives". The Constitution does not codify any rights -- the rights we enjoy are inalienable and implied to exist unless explicitly denied by the government.

Even though our system of government is a representative democracy, the founders understood that it is the people who hold the power. Only we, the people, can grant the government the power to restrict our inherent rights. The first amendment, for instance, does not state, "The people have a right to free speech, religion, and free press." It says that congress shall not infringe on the rights to free speech, religion, and free press. The Bill of Rights does not and was never intended to enumerate all of our rights; it merely reinforces the concept that the government does not have the power to prohibit certain rights. The founders created a Constitution that went to great lengths to restrict governmental power in order to prevent the state from infringing on our inalienable rights. Your editorial implies the reverse -- that the government holds all power and determines which rights its citizens exercise.

The rights we enjoy came from no one, certainly not from votes. They are human rights. We live in a country that mostly respects those rights because our ancestors fought a monarch and believed that government should not be more powerful than the people. And laws that reinforced our rights (such as the Civil Rights Act) were simply rebukes of previous legislatures who tried to infringe on those rights, unconstitutionally.

Citizens, through our elected representatives, may enact laws that further restrict our rights. The claim that supporters of a gay marriage amendment sought to "clarify" the Massachusetts Constitution obscures the fact that the amendment's "clarification" would have had the effect of restricting the activities and rights of one class of people. Although citizens have the power to amend the Constitutions (both Massachusetts' and United States') in ways that encroach on our rights (see the 18th Amendment), we should never be flippant about such initiatives or impatient about the process. Indeed, we should fight against such initiatives.

By voting down the proposed initiative, a majority of the state's legislators agree that an amendment which seeks to discriminate against a class of people deserves no place in Massachusetts' Constitution.