2015-06-29 On the Supreme Court Decision

The decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to allow same-sex marriage in the United States has led to think about the situation in Switzerland and about the role of a constitution.

In Switzerland, a popular initiative can add amendments to the constitution, but we have no constitutional court to enforce these. All the constitution does is say that parliament ought to pass laws to make it real. Then parliament can’t agree on a law, these amendments linger for many years, decades even. I’ve heard it said that this construction was made on purpose. Why have a court to make these decisions if you can simply vote in a different parliament. The idea is that you just add more democracy, I guess.

I just think it’s interesting that there are alternative thoughts on this and some do not require undemocratic elections for life of powerful people.

When comparing a high court of justices for life and an inactive parliament, I think the inactive parliament has more democratic potential because in a few years, I can vote for a new parliament. So, for the moment: not much different. As a political institution: it’s better if you can change your vote.

And yes, of course a democracy usually goes hand in hand with the rule of law, a constitution that protects minorities, and many other institutional and cultural norms. You can vote in Russia, in Iran, in the USA, and still you’ll find powerful forces affecting your freedoms: existing legislation preventing the establishment of a viable alternative, financial incentives preventing the growth of viable alternatives, existing institutions preventing the implementation of meaningful change. Voting alone is not enough.

Note that as far as the US goes, I think what makes it impossible for me to be very enthusiastic about decisions of the supreme court I happen to like or the election of presidents I like is that I know full well that the voters that disagree with me are still there, they still make up about half of the population, we won but we didn’t convince. So yes, as far as I am concerned, Love Wins and Thanks Obama Unironically and all that. But the others are still there. The US system of legal and cultural norms, of financial pressures, of all the things that are not about the actual voting, made it impossible to reach out and make those positive steps together. After the fight is before the fight. No matter who wins, the other side is determined to fight harder next time. None of the news that reaches me across the Atlantic gives me hope regarding any sort of healing. Perhaps this is part of our Zeitgeist for the moment. Or perhaps it has always been thus and I’ve just grown older, and more tired.

Also note that same-sex couples still don't get the exact same rights and protections in Switzerland.



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