Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Overturning Democracy

More than fifteen years after the New (New, new, new etc) South Africa and the inception of our visionary Constitution, conservative (and invariably religious fundamentalist) groups and political parties who bitterly oppose any civil rights for GLBTIQ people, still complain about the fact that such decisions which have far-reaching consequences for minority groups, were not put to a popular vote. Some of these groups have increasingly made it very clear that they intend to pursue means to overturn these rights.

To their minds, democracy is just a numbers game, and the weight of numbers automatically makes something right just because it has been voted on. Does it?

Perhaps you have noticed the recent trend in the US of voters going to the polls to vote on whether or not gay people deserve to be allowed the courtesy of having the right to marry the people they love? Last year Proposition 8 in the US brought global awareness of this see-saw battle.

First the human rights campaigners manage to get a law passed, it is hailed as a triumph for human rights, democracy and progress, and then the conservatives huff and puff, propagate lies and propaganda and campaign to get the same piece of legislation overturned at the polls a short time later. Honestly, it is telling that they campaign to get every human rights gain the pink community makes, reversed out of trademark ignorance, bigotry and intolerance - and all through democratic process via the polls. Afterwards, the process begins all over again, with human rights campaigners having to claw and fight their way through the mire of rhetoric and lies to regain lost ground. Why? Because human beings, as human beings crave equality, justice and freedom.

Needless to say, this campaigning and counter-campaigning in the USA, and in other places where human rights are a constant battle - is a very expensive business, both in financial terms and in the cost of human lives. How many people die the world over for lack of legal protections?

So, back and forth they go, giving and taking away gay and trans rights, truly playing God with the lives of people - who aside for their sexual orientation, one tiny part of what makes them up as people no less ordinary than the heterosexual and cis-gender majority consigning them to either being equal or oppressed and discriminated against.

If you were to travel across state lines in the USA, a gay person could go from married, to "civil unioned" (just doesn't have the same ring as "married", does it?) and from equal to a second-class citizen.

Likewise, a transgender woman could go from being allowed to enter into heterosexual marriage in their correct gender, to not even being recognized as legally female in another - all depending on where she finds herself. Ironically, in some places a woman has to enter a lesbian relationship and marry a person of the same gender in order to have a heterosexual marriage. That is, if they could find a church that would marry them.

Of the process of a majority voting on according equal rights to a minority, internationally respected human rights campaigner Wayne Besen says: "All Americans are losers by virtue of participating in a disgraceful process that is an affront to human dignity... If the basic freedoms of women, immigrants and African Americans were subject to the whims of voters, there is no doubt that this nation would be decades behind. Yet, we continue to blindly accept that these degrading and un-American referendums are tolerable, when they are not."

The concept of a majority deciding the fate of a minority in terms of whether or not they should have equal - or any - human rights, and then revisiting past legislations on human rights for a minority, is just plain despicable. This constant fighting to take away equality of certain groups by other groups and the constant real need for other groups to continue fighting in order to achieve equality is, to me at least, just so unnecessary.

In the first place, everybody should be equal in a democracy - that is the nature of a democracy. At least, it is - to my understanding.

The Constitution of South Africa is very, very clear on the matter of discrimination and prejudice. How can one group which undeniably retains superior civil rights and protections, possibly justify threatening the equality and worthiness of other human beings as people, and then expect to settle this dispute by means of a popular vote - and to still try and justify making changes to the constitution in order to legitimize their desires to oppress that minority?

Voting on things is democratic, yes - but not on deciding on whether or not people should be equal or have human rights. That isn't democracy, it is mob rule.

It's quite simple - the SA Constitution guarantees equality to all people, and also protections to all people on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity - so those who see this as an obstacle to their prejudice, bigotry and their puritanical obsessions with queer folk, see removing this protection as the solution to their problems.

It is particularly convenient for those who do not need protections on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity to want to remove that protection in order to vilify and persecute those who do - because they themselves have never needed such protection. I find that profoundly revealing of the human psyche. At least, in some people.

Politicians in the SA ruling party have recently begun making statements counter to the provisions of the Constitution and have even begun to hint at making changes to the Constitution to reflect their values to the detriment of minorities to whom it currently grants equality and human rights. Certain social bodies rooted in religious fundamentalism, have begun beating their drums and started mustering support to begin an assault on the Constitution, motivated by the traditional scapegoats of gay rights and abortion, ostensibly even with governmental support.

We can be in no doubt that we as a minority face a serious threat in South Africa. To continue to ignore it is folly, to do nothing, catastrophic.

In fact, once a country starts to tamper with its Constitution and starts ripping out protections here and human rights there, everything goes sideways. Just take a look at a prime example - Uganda today is teetering on the precipice of a blood bath. Constitutional amendments and the subsequent passage of opportunistic laws have today left the pink community in Uganda a defenseless, hunted and persecuted minority on the brink of a state sanctioned genocide.

Who would help the pink community in Uganda were they to start a purge of gay Ugandans and executing people for their sexual orientation or gender identity tomorrow? Sure, one country has condemned Uganda for considering the Genocide Bill in the past month, others are mumbling things, but nobody is talking turkey to Museveni and his cronies and letting them know that this is unacceptable and will bear them dire consequences.

Last year on 20 November, the previous Ugandan law passed, making homosexuality illegal and imposing a jail term on gay people. I wonder if they have considered the irony that the 20th November is the International Transgender Day of Remembrance? Imagine the irony should they announce on that same day this year, the passing of this bill? Who would come to the aid of GLBTIQ Ugandans? The same countries who are helping the pink community in Jamaica, Iraq and Iran now? Do you know who they are? Let me tell you. There aren't any.

That is why, regardless of whatever happens anywhere else, we need to stop this from happening here in South Africa - and it starts with protecting that constitution at all costs - because if they get their hands into that fragile piece of paper, it's over.

I would like to close with a question: What sort of person takes action to deprive fellow human beings of the right to be treated equal to themselves, to deprive others of happiness which would otherwise not cost them anything, to strip others of the dignity and freedoms they themselves take for granted?

What sort of person knowingly destroys the lives of other people?

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