Jeff Jacoby

It is hard to say which is sadder: the contempt for ordinary Americans that such comments reflect, or the ignorance of American history underlying them.

To begin with, it wasn't through "blunt" ballot measures that Southern buses and water fountains were segregated. It took the "delicacy of legislation" to write something so abominable into law.

Nor was it by means of a judicial bolt from the blue that segregation was finally crushed. It was through the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- a legislative milestone that would never have been reached if not for the fact that a majority of white Americans supported it.

To be sure, there were court cases, such as Brown v. Board of Education, that played a role in extending civil rights to citizens of every race. But those rulings didn't conjure newfangled "rights" out of thin air. They restored rights that had been created democratically and were already supposed to be the law of the land. The 14th Amendment -- approved by Congress and ratified by three-fourths of the states in 1868 -- had guaranteed equality and due process to blacks and whites alike. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 had barred discrimination in public accommodations. But the Supreme Court had gutted those protections -- for example in 1896, when it authorized streetcar segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson. It wasn't democracy that failed black Americans during the long decades of Jim Crow. It was a judiciary unwilling to protect the equality that the democratic process had guaranteed.

The republican form of government to which all Americans are entitled makes them the source of the constitution(s) under which they live. The only valid civil rights are those that have the consent of the governed. Their legitimacy comes from the democratic process, not from judicial fiat or political correctness.

"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves," Thomas Jefferson said, "and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion." Same-sex marriage will never be a civil right until the people in their discretion make it one.

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for