13 Apr 2022


Core Democratic Value and Same-Sex Marriages

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Same sex marriage in America has always been a controversial subject from various dimensions including religious doctrine, philosophy, sociology, health, and biological sciences among others. However, with this being an election year and poised to create one of the biggest electoral contests in the history of the USA, democracy is currently on trial and the favorite topic of the day; this makes all issues, including same-sex marriage being looked at from a democratic perspective. The great State of Michigan provides a unique opportunity to evaluate this subject as it generally encompasses tourists in the Upper Peninsula and expatriates in the Lower Peninsula working in the renowned big three car-making giants Ford, Car & General, and Chrysler. The relationship between the controversial topic of same-sex marriage and the core democratic values in the State of Michigan is as paradoxical as democracy and its core values. The well-structured liberty and tyranny of the majority albeit so diverse, are two acceptable definitions of democracy.

Another core reason for the same-sex argument to be considered from a democratic perspective is that the erstwhile predominant point of divergence, being the legal aspect has already been decided through a landmark Supreme Court decision dubbed Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S.2015 (Ajaka et al., 2015). In their article How Gay Marriage won , Ajaka et al. (2015) outlines the journey that led to the Supreme Court’s declaration that the right to marry is absolute, as it falls under the purview of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection rules, thus annulling all State Laws that outlawed same sex marriage. With the de jure issues out of the way, the two sides of the same marriage divide were left to discuss the de facto issues which include the moral question and the religious question; all encompassed in the democratic aspect of same sex marriage.

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The fundamental paradox of democracy lies in its definition; the most popular definition of the word democracy and perhaps the most politically correct is a system of government that is premised on the whole population through eligible members. However, another equally true definition of democracy is the control of a society or group by the majority of its members. Considering that one half of the total number in a group plus one qualifies as a majority, it sometimes becomes hard for a minority group to differentiate between dictatorships, being absolute rule by an individual or minority and the current version of democracy, being absolute rule by a cross-section of the populace which manages to have a majority of eligible voters (Lewis, 2011). This must have been the feeling that the gay and lesbian community in Michigan felt in 2004 when the state, through the democratic process of popular vote outlawed and indeed banned same-sex marriage; the democracy that was supposed to protect them, had alienated them.

Perhaps the best way to understand this paradoxical relationship between same-sex marriage and democracy in general and its core values in particular within Michigan, is to break it down core by core while conducting a qualified inventory. According to the Michigan Department of Education’s article “Our Core Democratic Values” the fundamental cores of the State’s democracy include liberty, common good, justice, equality, diversity, and popular sovereignty (Michigan Supreme Court, 2016). Singularly and severally, these are the notions, concepts, and beliefs that both form and inform the aforesaid paradox regarding same-sex marriage in Michigan from a democratic perspective.

A novel definition of liberty is being alone in the middle of a societal setting; it can also be defined as the ability and impunity invested on an individual to act freely and independently without being hampered by the general belief of the society. Generally, liberty is premised on the categorical imperative of humanism that gives major emphasis to the rights of an individual who qualifies to be considered as a rational human being to be treated as a means to an end and not an end to anybody else’s means. The concept of liberty, therefore, denotes that if an individual member of a society has been adjudged to be sober and rational, any conduct that an individual chooses to pursue should not be curtailed by the society, even if majority of the members of the society find it repulsive (Michigan Supreme Court, 2016). 

It is perhaps on this notion that homosexuality was considered a medical disorder and treated as such in the initial stages of the legal version of the homosexual debate. It is however, an undeniable fact that the core value of liberty is relative and not absolute in the state of Michigan. Marriage is a family issue to an extent that after attaining the age of absolute maturity, the individual who decides to marry does not even require parental consent. This qualifies the decision to get married as well as whom to marry as falling under the purview of absolute liberty as long as it is between two consenting adults. There were, therefore, no grounds, legal or otherwise for this issue to be subjected to a regular vote in the first place, as it was in 2004 or at all. The situation gives proper grounds for the contention that with regard to issues such as same-sex marriage, liberty is a relative core democratic value in Michigan, not an absolute one since a person’s liberty is determined by the will of the majority.

The second core democratic value is common good; another paradoxical concept that finds foundation in the philosophy of utilitarianism and perhaps the very reason why liberty is relative in Michigan, especially with regard to same-sex marriage. Generally, this notion considers a society or a group as a whole and creates rules, regulations, and policies that are favorable to the general population albeit they may be unfavorable to a negligible cross section of the said population (Michigan Supreme Court, 2016). The paradoxical element of common good is premised on exactly who determines what is for the good of all and how small a minority needs to be for them to be considered as a negligible minority. If we once again revert to the issue of same sex-marriage and the state of Michigan, the popular vote in 2004 clearly shows that common good is determined by the majority and negligible minority is also quantified by the minority (Lewis, 2011).

The other core democratic value in the state of Michigan is justice. Justice has two major and supplementary elements; right and law. If either of the two is missing, justice has not been served. It, therefore, follows that for justice to be upheld, laws that uphold what is right must be passed (Michigan Supreme Court, 2016). In Michigan however, had it not been for intervention by the Supreme Court, same sex marriage would still be both outlawed and banned in Michigan. This would be lawful as the matter had been entrenched into state law through a popular vote process, but was it right? Popular votes often determine which political or cultural affiliation is more popular and backed by better debaters as opposed to which notion is right or wrong. A system that determines what is right or wrong by the number of people who support is democratic, but not just. This element further defines the paradoxical relationship between core democratic values and same sex marriage.

Justice, therefore, goes beyond implementation of laws to the creation of the laws themselves through legislation or popular vote. The fact that several legally legislated laws have been declared null and void by the Supreme Court clearly shows that the democratic method of legislation does not necessarily guarantee justice since legality is not necessarily right. Anyone going through the process through which the constitution of Michigan was amended will find it to have been absolutely legal and it was conducted in a democratic manner that has been set out by the populace. The end result was however, wrong as ruled by the Supreme Court and since being right is an element of justice, which is a core democratic value of Michigan, it follows that the democratic process of banning same-sex marriage in Michigan did not lead to a democratic end as the end result was not right, therefore did not amount to justice.

Equality, another core democratic value in Michigan however, defines one of the fundamental paradoxes within the general concept of democracy. Our current version of democracy is adversarial in nature with good people taking both sides of the divide arguing issues and finally casting votes where the most popular idea wins (Tobias, 2015; Michigan Supreme Court, 2016)). Equality however, means that the least in the populace ought to be treated in the same manner as the greatest; that a member of the minority like the gay and lesbian group should have the same protection and consideration as the heterosexual majority. This core value however becomes watered down when the majority are allowed to determine what happens to the minority through a popular vote as happened with regard to same-sex marriage (Tobias, 2015). The paradox however, is completed by the fact that diversity is also a major core democratic value of the state of Michigan.

As a core democratic principle, diversity means that the particular society not only allows but also encourages differences in nature, culture, religion, and beliefs. It, therefore, follows that those who see things differently or leave their lives differently ought to be both welcome and encouraged to feel at home in the state of Michigan as so should new ideas, concepts and religions (Michigan Supreme Court, 2016). This is a core principle that should inform the regulation of usage of the popular votes in issues that have variety of opinions, thus allowing individuals to pursue their beliefs without interference by the majority. It is noteworthy to know that this is the point at which the state of Michigan failed when they allowed the majority to make a determination on the issue of same sex marriage. If diversity is upheld as a core democratic principle, those issues that incorporate and engender individual diversity of culture, conscience, and belief such as same sex marriage should be handled independently from the popular processes as was well ruled by the Supreme Court. In this manner therefore, the paradoxical relationship between the core democratic values of Michigan and same-sex marriage is well qualified.

When the equality and diversity are combined as argued by Tobias (2015), it creates a whole new picture where equality moves away from the issue of popularity and creates a concept where the minority obtain a status that allows them to equally enjoy their diversity in a similar manner as the majority. Cultures, beliefs, and ideas of the minority then become protected so that they can be enjoyed in the same manner as that of the majority. With regard to same-sex marriage, this concept is referred to as Marriage Equality and is premised on the notion that all marriages should be considered equal under an absolute definition of liberty rather than being seen as relative (Tobias, 2015).

Finally, there is the core democratic principle of popular sovereignty, which simply denotes that absolute power is wielded by the people generally through the process of popular vote. This is perhaps the fundamental excuse used when the issue of same-sex marriage was reduced into a bill and subjected to popular vote (Michigan Supreme Court, 2016). A famous anonymous Latin saying that translates to ‘power is nothing without control’ implies that it is the controller of the power that determines its effect. That the populace has power to determine upon issues does not mean that they have to make a determination thereof. The act of banning same-sex marriage in the state of Michigan can therefore not be blamed on the core principle of popular sovereignty but on the policy makers who subjected the sensitive issue to popular vote in the first place. Same sex-marriage is an individual decision between two adults and does not require popular sanction, just legal recognition.

The danger of popular sovereignty becoming a dictatorial tool by policy makers through the manipulation of the popular vote is so well argued by Lewis (2011) who contends that through this manipulation, policy makers can create a tyranny of numbers by circumspectly designing policy into questions that will be passed by the populace through popular votes. This tool has successfully been used against the minorities and the marginalized including but not limited to the gay and lesbian community, as envisaged in the wave of same-sex marriage state constitutional amendments of 2004, as they will not be able to rally numbers to oppose. Whereas most dictatorships use fear and violence, the misappropriation of the power behind a popular vote can cause just as much damage (Lewis, 2011).

The upshot of the foregoing, therefore, is that Michigan has a well thought out and outlined set of core democratic principles that work well on most issues yet did not protect the gay and lesbian community from reprehensible discrimination when the personal and private issue of marital preferences (as declared by the Supreme Court) was made a subject of the democratic process through a popular vote in 2004. In this instance, the spirit of democracy, which is premised on the fact that democracy is a tool of freedom for the people by the people, was transformed by policy makers to create a scenario where the population became a tool through democracy to alienate the fundamental rights of the minority. 

It would, therefore, be fair to say that the banning and outlawing of same-sex marriage in Michigan was an example of how policy makers can ride on the core principles of democracy and by extension implying that the freedom enjoyed through the constitution is anything but absolute if democracy was allowed to be the fundamental yardstick for governance. There are clear indications that the core values of Michigan looks into individual rights but the ban of same-sex marriage brings out more questions than answers. Fortunately, the Supreme Court has stood as a last hope for freedom by upholding the general core values of the nation in general and the state of Michigan in particular, albeit not in a judicial and democratic manner. Instances outside same-sex marriage have successfully shown a strong support of the core values and this has strengthened people’s trust and confidence in the country. Although the minority who believe in same-sex marriage might feel segregated, other issues that touch the minority are effectively taken care of by the core principles and values.


Ajaka, N., Ball, M., Appelbaum, Y., Fournier, R., Beinart, P., Barnwell, P., & Khazan, O. (2015). How Gay Marriage won . Retrieved from <http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/07/gay-marriage-supreme-court-politics-activism/397052/> 

Constitution Center (n.d). Amendment XIV citizenship rights, equal protection, apportionment, civil war debt. Retrieved from <http://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/amendments/amendment-xiv/> 

Lewis, D. C. (2011). Direct democracy and minority rights: Same-sex marriage bans in the U.S. States*. Social Science Quarterly, 92 (2), 364–383. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6237.2011.00773.x 

Michigan Supreme Court (2016). Core Democratic Values and Michigan’s Judicial Branch of Government. Michigan Supreme Court Learning Center.

Tobias, C. (2015). Certiorari and the marriage equality cases. University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform Caveat, 48 (1), 1–6. 

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