Steve Chapman

But inalienable rights are empty concepts without legal protection -- which in this case they enjoy only because of a constitution approved by the people. If those people had wanted to deny themselves the power to repeal rights protected by the state constitution, they could have included a provision to do that. They didn't.

Instead, they erred on the side of making it easy to amend their charter. Any limits on that power, beyond those imposed by the federal constitution, exist only in the mind of legal fantasists.

It was one thing to demand that the state Supreme Court overrule the will of the people once, and on a mere law. It's quite another to ask it to repudiate their verdict again, after they had decided to alter the constitution precisely to reverse a decision of the Supreme Court.

The justices apparently were not enchanted by the invitation. "We would like to hear from you why the court can willy-nilly disregard the will of the people to change the constitution," Justice Joyce Kennard told the lawyers urging the invalidation of Proposition 8.

Kennard, it should be noted, was among the justices who voted last year to legalize same-sex marriage. So did Chief Justice Ronald George, who Thursday suggested that the current method of amendment "is the system we have to live with until and unless it is changed."

The nice thing about the referendum option is that once gay-marriage supporters constitute a majority, they can promptly amend the constitution to their liking -- as I hope they do. But it is hard to win voters to your side while telling them they have no legitimate say on the issue.

Like it or not, the California Constitution notes a basic truth in a democratic society: "All political power is inherent in the people." Advocates of same-sex marriage might do better by treating those people not as opponents to be defeated but as allies to be won.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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