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Minority rights under a majority rule

A founding tenant of democracy is the idea of minority right and majority rules, meaning that legislation is passed with a majority of the populations consent but, at the same time, the rights of minorities are not forgotten. America has been run by this concept for years, and many politicians attempt to model our government in this way. But, on a more analytical level, is that what this country stands for? And what does the phrase even mean to us?

Recently, America has faced many challenges concerning minorities, namely the Hispanic population. Hispanic citizens of Arizona have perhaps the smallest voice when it comes to minority rights, as Arizona legislation has passed laws making it legal to inspect people for green cards based on looks alone. The officer must have a probable cause however, which is not different than any other law. The one very distinct difference from the current law is that it gives law enforcement the right to arrest a person, without a warrant, based on probable cause alone.

Of course there are two sides to this argument: many residents of Arizona feel this law would help cut back on illegal immigrants in their state, while many Hispanic citizens in the area see this law as racial profiling. This is a clear instance where the minority rights are not so much looked after as the preferences of the majority are.

The premise of Senate Bill 1070 — giving police the right to inspect people for green cards based on probable cause — is very sensible. It is simply a new, aggressive step in protecting our borders. But Hispanic citizen’s civil rights should not be sacrificed in the process. This law would give officers the authority to question legal immigrants and require them to carry their immigration papers at all times. Moreover, it is far too subjective since “probable cause” is determined by the officer and does not require tangible evidence in order to suspect someone of illegal immigration.

Although this law may satisfy the preferences of a majority of Arizona citizens, Hispanic citizens in Arizona are thrown aside and left subject to investigation based on “probable cause.” This law is under review by the Supreme Court to decide if it is constitutional or not.

Though one might not think it, those struggling for both Hispanic and gay rights represent two very different, yet very similar minority groups, because they represent what democracy means to us: minority rights majority rules. Although some people may not fall into these minorities, it is still our job as American citizens to assure the rights of all who live in this nation.

California has been a battleground for gay rights in recent years and since Proposition 8, many lawmakers have fought tooth and nail for their opinions to be heard on the matter. For those who don’t know, Proposition 8 was on the ballet during the 2008 election, and stated that only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in the state of California. Although Prop 8 was passed, it was repealed later on, and continues to be a very controversial issue in the state.

Like any other issue, there are two sides to this discussion. On one hand, people believe that gay people should be treated like everyone else, running under the motto: “equality for all.” Yet, there are others who view marriage from a biblical perspective, where the only “right way” is between a man and a woman. But, if the church and state must be separated, then how can we impose biblical principals on people who do not hold those beliefs?

Sometimes it is hard to remember the needs of the minority when they are drowned out by the voice of the majority. But, like the Hispanic community, the gay community demands the same voice and spotlight that other minorities have, regardless of personal prejudice towards their beliefs.

Democracy is a delicate yet beautiful structure that must be preserved; people must know that their rights are cared for and thought about. Yet many Hispanics and gays feel pushed out of the democracy of equality because they are not treated as others, and are given a different set of laws. Although I do not fully understand either of these minorities, I believe we should at least attempt to put ourselves in their shoes, to try and understand each other.

For more political columns, read the April 24 article, Resurrecting a political boogeyman.

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