Social Change in Vermont

     Vermont has become the first state to enact gay marriage through democratic processes – not judicial edict. (Vermont has always had a quirky individualistic streak. Vermonters also think it’s cute to elect a “socialist” Senator.)

     There are a few big lessons here.

     One is that social change of this kind can, indeed, be achieved democratically. Efforts to attain such ends through judicial processes, insulated from democratic control, are misguided and asking for trouble. That was the problem with Roe v. Wade – not just a bad decision from the standpoint of legal reasoning, but exceedingly bad social policy. I’m talking not about abortion policy but, rather, the policy of forcing this sort of thing down people’s throats without a grounding in democratic process. The result has been 36 years of ugly abortion wars. European countries, in contrast, liberalized their abortion laws through the democratic process, with the result that those who lost the debates have peacefully accepted the outcome. Gay marriage advocates seem intent on repeating the Roe v. Wade mistake, trying to do an end-run around public opinion through the courts. Thus we see, in California, judicial efforts to nullify a referendum in which voters made clear their views. Bad idea.

     Achieving gay marriage is not about changing LAWS. It’s about changing MINDS. Changing laws without changing minds is a recipe for conflict. Vermont has shown the way to go.

     The second lesson is that minds can indeed change; societies, and cultures, change. We should remember this whenever we are told that we should not contemplate change for this or that other foreign culture, that we should respect their traditions, and so forth. Segregationists in the American South made this exact argument too. But of course there has been enormous social and cultural change in that regard. So when you hear, for example, that democracy is out of the question for Slobovia, because they’ve never had it, and it’s incompatible with their cultural traditions, and so on, don’t buy it.

     In fact, not only can cultures change; they must. The world is always changing around us, and we continuously have to adapt. Our vast human ability to do this is the glory of our species.


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