Tag Archives: same-sex marriage

It’s Called the Rule of Law….

Indiana’s Governor isn’t the only government official living in an alternate universe. Look, for example, at Alabama’s “Judge” Roy Moore, who has also been in the news of late.

It’s one thing when students who don’t understand the difference between a statute and a constitution complain that their preferred policies should be the law of the land. It’s regrettable–albeit humorous–when Y’all Qaida cowboys communicate their grievances (and inadvertently, their ignorance) by taking over a bird sanctuary. But we expect lawyers— and especially Judges—to understand how the American legal system works.

They don’t have to agree with every Supreme Court decision. They can stamp their feet and insist—as Governor Pence did when he was Congressman Pence—that Marbury versus Madison was wrongly decided, and that every statute struck down by the Supreme Court since 1803 was an act of judicial usurpation.

But we do expect them to obey the decisions of the highest court in the land.

For those of you who’ve been vacationing on the moon, Moore—who has long been a religious zealot with delusions of grandeur—is the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, a position he regained after being removed for defying federal law and several court orders by erecting a five-ton replica of the Ten Commandments at the door to the Alabama courthouse. Most recently,

Judge Moore issued an administrative order declaring that “Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage licenses” to same-sex couples. The Supreme Court’s June Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage involved a case from a different federal circuit, so it does not apply in Alabama, Moore argues. Legal experts say that is a patently wrong interpretation of American law.

Patently wrong indeed! Law students who took such a position would never pass a bar exam.

Read my lips, “Judge.” If you don’t like gay people, fine. Don’t invite them over for dinner. If you disapprove of same-sex marriage, don’t have one. If your version of God hates homosexuals, feel free to pray for their descent into the fiery pits (or whatever hell you people believe in).

But no matter how fervent your belief, no matter how wedded you are to your animus, you don’t get to overrule the Supreme Court. If you are incapable of following and applying the law, you need to be impeached or otherwise removed from a position that allows you to affect other people.

I think it was Andy Warhol who said everyone was entitled to 15 minutes of fame. Don’t look now, Judge, but your 15 minutes are up—and it won’t be long, in historical terms, until those who agree with you join you in that great dustbin of history.

I Don’t Think You Understand How This Works….

Okay…I wasn’t going to weigh in on the ridiculous clerk who has been refusing to comply with the law and numerous court decisions requiring her to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but these paragraphs in a recent story got me:

Davis, an elected official and Democrat, has argued that she should be exempt from following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges because she objects to same-sex marriage for religious beliefs.

She had asked the judge to delay his ruling until the Kentucky state legislature, which won’t be in session again until January, can pass legislation that would exempt her and other clerks who don’t wish to follow the law.

Does this woman really believe that the state legislature can pass a bill that–in effect–overrules the U.S. Constitution?

It’s depressing enough when ordinary citizens don’t understand the most basic structure of American government, but how in the world does someone who has spent decades working in a government office remain so appallingly ignorant of the Constitution, the Supremacy Clause, and the operation of the First Amendment?

It’s hard to escape the suspicion that this is intentional ignorance, grandstanding–that no one is really that stupid.

It’s bad enough that she seems embarrassingly ignorant of the nature of religious liberty. As many observers have pointed out, she is entitled to believe anything she wants, but she is not entitled to a government job or paycheck. If her beliefs prevent her from doing what the job requires, she needs to quit.

If I told the University that my religious beliefs “exempted” me from having to teach certain students, believe me, I wouldn’t be on the faculty very long!

A Facebook friend put it this way: if a Quaker public official refused to issue a gun permit, citing “sincerely held” pacifist religious beliefs, would Davis’ “religious liberty” defenders insist that those sincerely held religious beliefs should be accommodated? Or are her defenders more likely to be a bit selective about their demands for accommodation?

It is difficult to identify the most offensive element of this sordid effort to blame discrimination against LGBT folks on God, but I think the winner may be a statement issued yesterday by Davis’ attorney, Matt Staver of the Liberty Counsel. Stare had the chutzpah (google it) to compare Davis to the Jews under the Nazis.

According to Staver, sanctioning a government employee for refusal do the job she is being paid to do is just like sending millions of people to the gas chambers.

I want to pity these people. I really do. But they seem so unworthy of human compassion.

 

 

Asking the Wrong Question

Yesterday, I posted about Roy Moore and Alabama’s resistance to same-sex marriage, and a commenter took the federal courts to task, asserting that they’d exceeded their authority by invalidating “the will of the people.”

The evidence of over-reach? Nowhere does the Constitution talk about same-sex marriage.

This is an argument that makes my head explode, because it betrays one of the most fundamental misunderstandings of our legal system.

Of course there’s nothing in the Constitution about same-sex marriage. There’s nothing in it about any kind of marriage. Or about the right to travel, or practice a profession, or numerous other rights it protects. That’s because the Constitution is not the source of our rights.

The Founders were persuaded by Enlightenment philosophers like Hobbes and Locke that humans are born with “natural rights.” We have those rights by virtue of being human (or, if you are religious, because we were “endowed” with them by a creator). The job of government, according to Hobbes, was to protect those natural rights and our individual liberty; Locke agreed, writing that government needed to be limited so that state power would not be used to infringe our natural rights and liberties.

The Bill of Rights doesn’t grant rights; it limits government. Even when that government is expressing “the will of the people”–or as the Founder’s might have put it, the “passions of the majority.”

If someone wants to argue that there is no “natural right” to choose your own marriage partner–that the right to live your life in accordance with your own conception of morality and with fidelity to your deepest identity is not a human right–I’ll disagree strongly, but that would be the appropriate argument.

Triumphant declarations that you read the text of the Constitution and didn’t find a “right”  to same-sex marriage simply tells the world that you are profoundly ignorant of the purpose of our Constitution and the theory of government upon which it was based.

Alabama: Why Judges Shouldn’t Be Elected

He’s baaack!

Roy Moore, the infamous “Ten Commandments” theocrat, is serving a second stint as Alabama’s chief justice. Moore was first elected to that position in 2000, but was removed after refusing to move a Ten Commandments monument he had installed at the entrance to the courthouse. Carved into a five ton boulder. In a July 2003 ruling, the appeals court compared Moore’s actions to the

“position taken by those southern governors who attempted to defy federal court orders during an earlier era,” citing the actions of former governors Ross Barnett of Mississippi and George C. Wallace of Alabama in trying to block campus integration and protest marches during the height of the civil rights movement.

“Any notion of high government officials being above the law did not save those governors from having to obey federal court orders, and it will not save this chief justice from having to comply with the court order in this case,” the appeals court wrote.

In November 2003, the state ethics panel unanimously voted to remove Moore from the bench. He was reelected in 2012, narrowly defeating a candidate who didn’t join the race until August after Democrats disqualified their original candidate. (What was that old saying?–you can’t beat something with nothing.) When it became apparent that he’d won, he told supporters

“Go home with the knowledge that we are going to stand for the acknowledgment of God.”

Now, Moore has told the state’s probate judges–who evidently issue marriage licenses in Alabama– to ignore a federal judge’s ruling that same-sex marriages could proceed, and a majority of them have been complying.

Interestingly, Alabama does not require probate judges to have any sort of legal education. It’s also one of thirteen states where probate judges are elected in partisan primaries and general elections.

The U.S. Constitution made federal judges independent precisely in order to avoid this sort of assault on the rule of law. Congress and the Executive Branch are supposed to answer to the voters; courts of law are supposed to answer to the Constitution.

In best-case scenarios, judicial elections give rise to the appearance of impropriety– did campaign contributions influence the administration of justice? In the worst-case scenarios, judicial elections give you a Roy Moore.

I Haven’t a Clue

During a discussion with a friend the other day, he asked me a question I couldn’t answer.  Why, he wondered, did so many other Western democratic countries accept same-sex marriage before the United States? We still have states fighting tooth and nail against the tide of recognition, while in other parts of the modern world, the fight has been over for more than a decade.

I actually asked myself the same question back in 2005, when Spain recognized same-sex marriages. How did it happen that the country best known for the  Inquisition recognized same-sex marriage before we did?

The Netherlands was first, recognizing same-sex unions in 2001. In addition to Spain, Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal and Sweden have all followed suit. Last year, Britain joined the growing list.

It isn’t just Europe, either–last year, New Zealand became the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to legalize gay marriage.  South Africa did so back in 2006.

We Americans pride ourselves on our devotion to individual liberty and human rights, but we haven’t exactly been pioneers on this issue. (Or, come to think of it, on other issues involving acceptance–let alone celebration–of diversity.) Of course, there’s that durable Puritan heritage that continues to fight–often successfully– with the Enlightenment roots of our governing philosophy.

The U.S. is an outlier among western democratic societies when it comes to religion. (Ironically, given Puritans’ constant efforts to pass laws privileging religion, sociologists tell us it is our lack of a state-endorsed religion–our Enlightenment freedom to choose–that is largely responsible for Americans’ persistent religiosity). Since most opposition to same-sex marriage is based on religious doctrine, that’s my best guess at an answer.

Any other theories about why we lag the rest of the west?