California, you just got trolled.
If you’re unfamiliar with the lingo, a “troll” is someone who posts a provocative comment on the Internet with the goal of causing the utmost disruption. The act of “trolling” is to behave like a jerk on the Internet because, hey, it’s the Internet. To be “trolled” is when you fail to recognize a troll or the act of trolling and respond with anger, dismay or outrage.
That brings us to the “Sodomite Suppression Act.”
In February, Huntington Beach attorney Matt McLaughlin wrote a check for $200 and filed an initiative with the secretary of state that is so outrageous, so obviously unconstitutional – to say nothing of immoral – and so plainly ridiculous that it could only be the work of a first-rate troll.
McLaughlin’s measure would require that “any person who willingly touches another person of the same gender for purposes of sexual gratification be put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method.”
It would also outlaw “sodomistic propaganda” – a crime that would be punishable by million-dollar fines and exile – and bar from public office any homosexual who hasn’t been already dispatched with the aforementioned bullet to the head or other convenient method. Oh, and the measure could only be reviewed by a quorum of “non-sodomite” state Supreme Court judges.
Naturally, instead of recognizing the measure for what it is – one of the worst jokes of the 21st century so far – everybody seems to have gone insane.
The broad consensus appears to be that McLaughlin’s impossible initiative poses a clear and present danger to California’s gay and lesbian population and that there ought to be serious consequences for even filing such a measure.
We can no more outlaw bigotry and malice than we can outlaw war, famine and pestilence. If you believe in direct democracy – and I don’t – then you take the good and the bad and let the voters sort it out.
But does anyone believe McLaughlin has a prayer of ever gathering 365,880 signatures to qualify his measure for the ballot? In this state? Come on.
Obviously, the execrable initiative is an embarrassment to image-conscious politicians. What message would it send if our progressive attorney general and aspiring U.S. senator let an obviously unenforceable measure move forward?
In fact, Attorney General Kamala Harris denounced the measure in the strongest possible terms. Last week, she asked a judge whether she really has to provide a title and summary for McLaughlin’s odious misadventure.
The answer is almost certainly yes. In 1946, the state Supreme Court ruled that the attorney general couldn’t refuse to certify an initiative simply because he or she believed it was unconstitutional. “We think it is clear that the duties of the attorney general in this respect are purely ministerial,” the court said. The same is true today.
To her enormous discredit, Harris has gone out of her way to write skewed titles and summaries for measures she dislikes. In 2012, for example, she titled a pair of pension reform measures as “Reduces pensions for public employees.” The summaries weren’t much better. Never mind that wasn’t what the initiatives would have done; they had to be stopped.
In this instance, Harris need only play the title and summary straight and it would have the same outcome.
To be fair, I don’t know McLaughlin’s motives, and neither do you. He isn’t talking. Nobody can find him. Maybe I’m wrong and he’s not a troll.
But the effects of McLaughlin’s $200 stunt are clear to anyone with eyes to see. Apart from generating international headlines, initiative reform is once again the cause du jour. Legislators are proposing everything from raising the filing fee to making petitions subject to Public Records Act requests, thus discouraging voters from signing controversial measures.
Reining in the initiative process is a fine idea. The state constitution is too easy to amend, and ballot box budgeting has only made governing the state more dysfunctional. At the very least, the filing fee should be higher. After all, $200 in the 1940s would be the rough equivalent of $2,500 today.
But the “Sodomite Suppression Act” seems like an awfully convenient bogeyman to get those laws passed. It’s almost as if somebody thought mass hysteria would be the only way to clamp down on direct democracy. That’s what happens when you feed a troll.
Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.