After Colo. civil unions debate, Miss. poll underlines folly of subjecting rights to a vote

(image: Alan Light, Flickr)

A recent survey of Mississippi Republicans conducted by Public Policy Polling (pdf) found that a majority of them believe inter-racial marriage should be illegal. According to the poll, 46 percent of the Republicans told PPP staffers that interracial marriage should be illegal and 14 percent of them said they weren’t sure. Only 40 percent of Mississippi Republicans believe interracial couples should be allowed to legally marry. The poll comes a week after Colorado Republicans voted down a bill that would have granted Colorado gay couples domestic partnership rights already granted automatically with marriage to straight people. The Republican lawmakers said the issue should be left to voters to decide.

The question on interracial couples came in a poll intended to measure support for likely GOP presidential candidates. PPP called 400 usual Mississippi Republican primary voters between March 24 and March 27. The firm reported a margin of error at +/-4.9 percent.

The Colorado civil unions bill passed easily and with bipartisan support in the state’s Democratic-controlled Senate before dying in the House Judiciary Committee. Senator Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, led the opposition early, mostly citing the need to protect traditional marriage but also pointing to votes of the people cast in 2006. That year Coloradans passed Amendment 43, which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, and they voted down Referendum I, which would have established civil unions for gay people. “We have to respect the will of the people,” Lundberg said.

House Judicary Committee Chairman Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, took up that argument, as did all of the other Republican Committee members after they voted to kill the bill.

“I think [civil unions] is a major public policy decision,” said Gardner, “and because it was subjected to a vote of the people, both in Referendum I and Amendment 43 in different ways, to do it differently now, [to pass it] legislatively, that strikes me as aggregating to ourselves something that the people have spoken on.”

The House sponsor of the bill, Denver Democrat Mark Ferrandino, said he thought the talk from Republicans about the “will of the people” was just a cover.

“This was pressure by leadership to not let [the bill] out of committee,” he said. “That’s what you saw. They were scared… They were too concerned with what the far right wanted and not too concerned with what the people of Colorado wanted.”

Democratic Judiciary Committee member Claire Levy said at the hearing that asking voters to weigh whether or not to grant citizens rights was not appropriate. We don’t submit to a vote of the people Constitutional rights guaranteed to all Americans, including minority Americans. That’s not the way the United States is governed, she said.

The progressive politics America Blog, writing on the PPP poll, said the reported numbers were only a sort of tip of the iceberg.

“What’s really sick is that 46 percent of Republicans were willing to admit to a stranger (pollster) that they don’t approve of the mingling of the races. Imagine how high the REAL number is.”

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