The passage of Constitutional Amendment 36 on Tuesday night highlighted a disturbing aspect of politics in Oregon.
Regardless of how one lies on the issue of same-sex marriage, changing anything in our state constitution should be regarded as serious business. More than a set of laws, the constitution defines what we as Oregonians view as the basic tenants of our way of life in this state. Our constitution provides even broader protections than the federal Constitution. It’s a document that should require more than a simple majority to change.
Take a look at how difficult it is to amend our federal Constitution: a proposed amendment must first pass by a two-thirds majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and then must be ratified by three-fourths of the states.
This is quite a stark contrast to the process in Oregon.
Here it takes just eight percent of voters to sign a petition to put an amendment on the ballot. Then a simple 50 percent-plus-one majority tally in the election will permanently change the constitution.
With a few million dollars and a well-targeted campaign, any well-funded interest group can take the legislative process into its own hands and bypass the legislative process intended to ensure all voices are heard and dealt with reasonably, checks and balances and representative government be damned.
Changing the constitution when 43 percent of Oregon’s voting population strongly disagrees with the change should be cause for concern.
The constitution was meant to unite the people of Oregon by providing a broad framework under which Oregonians could pursue their given livelihoods.
It is difficult to think of what could be worse for Oregon than its own citizens feeling that they are not represented by their own constitution.
As Measure 36 has amply demonstrated, our current amendment process makes it too easy to write values into our constitution that Oregonians are deeply divided on.
When such a large group of our citizens are alienated, it harms everyone. State pride falters, cultural splits become more entrenched, citizens become discouraged about their ability to live and grow in Oregon.
We as Oregonians need to rethink the process with which we amend our constitution before we are left with a meaningless document we don’t even recognize.
The ability to change our state’s highest document as our times and values change is an important one, but any changes should represent the values of all Oregonians. They should be changes that not just the majority but the vast majority of Oregonians are in agreement with.