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Editorial | On Politics

Majority rule is not always best for society

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The late Mary George, perhaps the best politician produced by Hawaii Republicans, summed it up best.

"Sometimes we have to save the voters from themselves."

Former Hawaii Supreme Court Justice Steven Levinson is warning of "tyranny of the majority."

At issue is why Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed the bill to provide civil unions for gay or straight unrelated couples over the age of 18.

Said Lingle: "It would be a mistake to allow a decision of this magnitude to be made by one individual or a small group of elected officials."

To Lingle, the civil unions bill was just like same-gender marriage, which she opposes. For local laws it would be the same as marriage, even though Lingle ignored that for federal laws the union would be unrecognized.

That’s a big difference glossed over by Lingle because she said "it is essentially marriage by another name." If a civil union couple tried to file a joint federal tax return, they would have quickly found out that "essentially marriage" doesn’t cut it with the IRS.

But Lingle said on Tuesday that her rejection was because it was too big a discussion for her or the Legislature to make alone.

"This decision is of such societal significance that the people of Hawaii deserve the right to directly decide," said Lingle in her formal veto message.

Before 1920, women in the U.S. could not vote — that was the way it was, it was the way society worked. Men got to vote, women didn’t. Congress in 1920 passed what became the 19th Amendment, allowing both men and women to vote. A small group of elected officials deciding to bend society.

Before 1964 and the Civil Rights Act, racist "Jim Crow" laws wove themselves through every aspect of American society.

In Mississippi it was a misdemeanor to "publish matter urging or presenting arguments in favor of social equality or of intermarriage between whites and Negroes."

In Maryland, "All marriages between a white person and a Negro, or between a white person and a person of Negro descent, to the third generation, inclusive … are forever prohibited, and shall be void."

As President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed the Civil Rights Bill, Southern politicians warned in the Southern Manifesto about changing the rules. They hailed "the amicable relations between the white and Negro races that have been created through 90 years of patient effort by the good people of both races."

Then LBJ’s coalition of northern Democrats and Republicans bent society to outlaw discrimination in stores, hotels, parks and schools — and America moved closer to its potential.

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice," said Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Tuesday, Hawaii moved away.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Reach him at


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