There has been a lot of publicity and justifiable disappointment about the decision by the voters of California to narrowly support – 52 per cent to 48 per cent – a proposal to change the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in that state.
But the result which really astonished me was on a proposition to set up a non-partisan authority to draw the electoral boundaries in the state. I wasn’t surprised that it passed, but I was amazed that it only just squeaked through – 50.7 per cent to 49.3 per cent! Maybe it’s just my Queensland upbringing, where Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s government used to draw their own electorate boundaries, but I find it hard to imagine why anyone – let alone 49 per cent of people – could support partisan boundary rigging. It’s almost like voting against democracy.
The results for all twelve Californian propositions held at the same time as their general election are at this link. A much more positive and more comprehensive a result, with 63 per cent in favour, was a proposition that requires “calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs be confined only in ways that allow these animals to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely” (with exceptions for situations such as transportation, rodeos, lawful slaughter, research and veterinary purposes).
It might seem like a fairly mild reform, simply giving farm animals enough space to turn around, but it is not something you’ll see permitted in Australia any time soon.
Every system has its drawbacks, but while I am very disappointed about the result on the same sex marriage proposition, I still believe there is a lot going for giving voters the opportunity to hold such referenda.
One other positive feature of the process, at least in California, is the online provision of information to voters in six other languages, as well as English, outlining the case for and against the various propositions.
UPDATE: The American Civil Liberties Union and others have filed a court challenge to the validity of Proposition 8 – the one which sought to make same sex marriages unconstitutional. There will be some fighting over this issue for some time yet.