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Tyrone Schiff

Political Science 111


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Cooperation Wins the Day

Since the original framing of the Constitution in 1789, there has been over 10,000

attempts to amend this revered document. Of those attempts, only 27 have actually been

ratified by the states and thus successfully amended the Constitution. In spite of the

staggering statistics against the passing of an amendment, it is quite evident that some do

in fact pass. Ultimately, amending the Constitution comes down to the sentiments of the

country’s constituency, and their representatives in Congress supporting those attitudes.

Therefore, a constitutional ban on gay marriage can succeed so long as there is adequate

support for the amendment and collective action is implemented effectively.

It is imperative to first understand the methods in which an amendment can be

proposed and further ratified. There are four such routes that an amendment can take

(Lowi, 64). Amendments are proposed and are either passed through the House and

Senate by a two-thirds vote, or by a national convention that Congress calls as a result of

petitions from two-thirds of the states (Lowi, 65). Both of these processes occur on the

national level. There is a great deal of compromise and cooperation in order to get an

amendment this far through the process already.

Furthermore, in order for an amendment to be ratified it has to go through one of

two processes on the state level. For an amendment to be ratified into the Constitution, it

must be accepted by three-fourths of the states in the union (Lowi, 65). This can be

achieved through majority vote in state legislatures or assembling conventions for the

purpose of ratifying the Constitution (Lowi, 65). These are tough stipulations, because

they require concurrence from people all over the country. This ability to work towards a

common goal is generally referred to as collective action.


Tyrone Schiff
Political Science 111
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Collective action is the life-blood to which an amendment will either succeed or

perish. Collective action is depicted here in a largely macro perspective. The two

chambers that make up Congress, the House and Senate, both need to work collectively

and coordinate their efforts to get two-thirds of both their chambers to agree.

Furthermore, the states, 38 out of 50 of them at minimum, have to also find a way to be in

agreement. This seems like an enormous task, but with adequate collective action, the

willingness to obtain similar goals, ratifying an amendment is not as hard as it appears.

There is also a great deal of collective action that needs to occur within the chambers of

Congress in order for an amendment to pass.

An amendment to the Constitution can make its way to Congress through a

number of means. Collective action is the key ingredient needed in order for it to

continue its potential ratification. Individual constituents anywhere in the country or

special interest groups can write an amendment and propose it to their Congressman

(Lowi, 162). The Congressman takes part in collective action immediately in this case.

He or she can either throw the amendment out or begin to coordinate his efforts along

with those of his constituents to achieve a common goal. The Congressman can now

present the amendment to fellow members of his respective chamber, and here too

collective action plays a pivotal role in the success or failure of the amendment. The

process of getting more and more people to support an action will continue until the effort

is thwarted due to a lack of collective action or too much collective action in the opposing

direction.

Collective action also takes place in each respective chamber of Congress due to

the structure and procedures that occur in the House and Senate. In the House, the
Tyrone Schiff
Political Science 111
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speaker of the House possesses a great deal of power, because he or she is in charge of

setting the agenda. If the current speaker of the House chooses not to discuss a potential

amendment regarding the banning of gay marriage, the effort would fail based on this

single collective action problem. In the Senate, similarly, the majority and minority

leaders are in charge of “the Senate’s calendar, or agenda for legislation” (Lowi, 181).

Without a conscious effort to work with others to achieve a common goal, amendments in

both the House and Senate can die based on the decisions of few. Collective action is the

most integral part of trying to pass an amendment.

It is easy to note just how important the role of collective action is in trying to get

an amendment ratified. Although it is rare to find instances in which collective action

occurs with no problems, it can occur and therefore a ban on gay marriage can succeed so

long as there is sufficient collective action driving it. If the country really wanted to pass

an amendment that made everyone wear green shirts on Wednesdays it could be done

with enough collective action supporting it. The ratification process of an amendment has

been set up in such a way that changes to the Constitution can be made, but only if there

is ample agreement by a vast majority of the country on a state and national level. Any

amendment can succeed, it is ultimately just up to the constituents, special interest

groups, and Congressmen and women to support its passage via the use of collective

action.