Two major developments, one in the United States and the other in Jamaica, have given rise to the question we ask in the headline on this editorial - Has democracy outlived its usefulness? We do not ask this merely to be frivolous.

In one of the biggest ironies of our time, the world, by means of cable television, witnessed the unlikely picture of thousands of pro-gay marriage supporters demonstrating in California against the passing of Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriages.

Unlikely because hitherto, differences between and among social groups have been resolved, even if not entirely and conclusively, by means of majority vote. The majority of voters in that US state cast their ballots on November 4 saying 'yes' to Proposition 8 and therefore 'no' to gay marriages. It was democracy as we know it.

Subsequently, however, spokespersons for the gay lobby and straight friends, some of them very prominent personalities, argued that the final say in such a private decision between two persons ought not be left to a majority. In this case, they advocated that the matter be taken to the US Supreme Court for resolution where, of course, they are more confident of getting their desired result.

Back home, we are seeing a similar irony in the argument by some who oppose the retention of the death penalty, including human rights groups and individuals who do not accept Tuesday's 'yes' vote by a majority of members of parliament to keep capital punishment on the law books.
Some representatives of the anti-hanging lobby have also argued against the holding of a referendum on capital punishment, presumably because they believe that a majority of people in the country would vote for the death penalty.

Beyond our shores, London-based Amnesty International has, predictably, lashed out against the vote by parliamentarians to retain the death penalty, issuing a veiled threat that it could have grave (no pun intended) implications for Jamaica.

So the conventional wisdom that democracy is the best form of government and regulation of social groupings now seems to be no longer so conventional or wise, at least as far as those two lobby groups are concerned.

Yet, we believe that there are elements of merit in their position. In the case of the two issues at hand - gay marriage and capital punishment - previous decisions by majority vote have failed to resolve the differences or dampen the passions which the proponents bring to the debate and their advocacy.

Of course, it will also be argued that implict in their position too is the lack of tolerance of any other views but their own and an unwillingness to abide by majority rule, which could lead to anarchy and chaos.

On our part, we still do not know of any better way to arrive at a conclusion on any matter which so tears apart a society, than the democratic way. There are many other issues which similarly inflame passions, such as abortion, legalising ganja, sex education in schools among them. We are sure the list grows as parochial issues in individual countries are added.

The question that has to be answered is if not democracy, what?