Americans love our democracy; we want to spread it across the world. We believe in the will of the people. We love our three branches of government, and we are practically giddy electing our peers to represent our districts and our states. And every four years we nearly salivate over the prospect of putting our favored candidates in the White House.
We love our state constitutions and the U.S. Constitution. We amend our constitutions, celebrate our Declaration of Independence each year and visit all of the historic places where citizens may remind themselves of the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness protected by the balance of power we recognize as the heart of our democracy.
However, when that whole balance of power thing we all agreed to tips in our opposition’s favor, we claim the system is rigged. We start accusing people in power or people with money for stymieing the fairness of the system we so love.
A balance of power can be a pesky thing when we find ourselves — or our causes — stuck on the high side of a seesaw, wondering when or if we might ever get to set our feet firmly on the solid ground for which we fought.
Then, true to form, one side or another attacks the system we love so much while the other side celebrates it. We use the same talking points about disregarding the “will of the people” or having decisions made by “judicial fiat,” no matter the issue and no matter the side. We lambast the president when he issues executive orders, and every talking head has some angle — and plenty of time — to rile the masses in partisan debates.
And pundits have all the time in the world because the democratic process is slow, inefficient and expensive. The reasons we are frustrated is the democratic process is slow, inefficient and expensive. We do the same things over and over and get the same results until there is nothing to do but wait until the results change.
In 2008 when Floridians approved a ban on gay marriage — a blatant violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution — same-sex couples remained barred from marrying in our state. Our government allows for laws to be enacted by the will of the people directly through ballot initiatives, or indirectly through people we elect to represent us as representatives, senators, governors and other elected officials.
For six years Floridians lived with the decision of the people, as state after state after state found banning gays from marriage is unconstitutional. Last week a judge in the Florida Keys finally struck down Florida’s ban and ordered the Monroe County Clerk of Court (another elected official) to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples the following Tuesday.
Almost immediately, Attorney General Pam Bondi (another elected official) put a hold on the judge’s ruling because she plans to appeal the decision believing the issue must be settled in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Is this starting to sound familiar?
Last year when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down “portions” of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, that defended states from recognizing marriages conducted in other states, they practically begged for this issue to come up over and over again in precisely the same way. Look how the High Court’s stalling of a final decision, for even just one year, has had on the will of the “people.”
American democracy is great, and it’s flawed and everything of importance feels like it moves at a snail’s pace. But, that isn’t the system; it’s the people. Finding balance isn’t easy and it takes time – time many people don’t have. The process is fluid and sluggish at the same time, but that is the cost of preserving what each of us considers freedom.
We can protest and politic we can raise money and elect representatives or find signatures to give people the power to create laws representing the will of the majority.
But, once the process begins, we better be prepared for the long arc of history and be willing to accept how many lives are impacted when finding balance and fairness isn’t as happy a pursuit as we were promised.
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