The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):

  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”

Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cal Thomas returns to form

A bit over a week ago, I posted a message expressing my surprise at finding a column in the Washington Examiner by Cal Thomas with which I actually agreed. well, in Yesterday's Examiner I saw another column by him. And while it is not the very next column after the one I commented on last week (there was at least one more column between the two), I found it striking at just how much this column illustrated just how far apart Mr. Thomas and I are on most issues.

The subject of yesterday's column was, in large part, the improperly-named Federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996. He begins:

Given his track record on marital fidelity, former President Clinton is not the person I would consult about “committed, loving relationships.” Clinton used those words in a Washington Post op-ed last week, urging the Supreme Court to overturn the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman, which he signed into law.

In his column, Clinton said that 1996 “was a very different time.” No state recognized same-sex marriage and supporters of DOMA “believed that its passage ‘would diffuse a movement to enact a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which would have ended the debate for a generation or more.’” Clinton says he now supports same-sex marriage based on justice, equality and the Constitution.

Now, while the slap at former President Clinton's marital history is, I believe, not entirely gratuitous, it really is out of place here — the issue is not Clinton's sex life, but the right of other people, who may be far more deeply committed, to enter into a relationship that they wish recognized as a marriage. But Cal Thomas is being a smarty-pants here, and bringing up Clinton's history to add an ad hominem reason to come out on the other side of the question. Whatever you think of Bill Clinton's conduct, it shouldn't be the issue in this discussion.

Mr. Thomas actually mischaracterizes DOMA anyway — it is only for Federal purposes that DOMA “defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman” — each state in fact can, at present, define it in that way or any other. And in fact, later in the same column, Mr. Thomas actually says:

The Constitution doesn't guarantee the right to marry. States, not the federal government, issue marriage licenses.

And this is a very important reason that DMA should be considered unconstitutional. But he continues:

Current laws restrict “underage” marriage, as well as polygamy. If same-sex marriage is approved, what's to stop polygamists from demanding legal protection and cultural acceptance? … So I ask, if “fairness” and “equality” are the standard, isn't it also “unfair” to “discriminate” against polygamists who wish to live in “loving” and “committed” relationships?

But while there is a case before the Supreme Court that addresses this issue — and I will get to that latter — DOMA does not have anything to do with whether a state should, or should not, permit any given couple (or set of more than two, if you bring in the question of polygamy) to marry. What DOMA says is that, even if a couple is married under the laws of the state of Massachusetts, the Federal Government will refuse to recognize that marriage if the two are both of the same sex. And that contravenes the usual Constitutional relationship between the states and Federal government. A simple Tenth Amendment argument makes DOMA unconstitutional.

Anyway, we aren't seeing suits to legalize polygamy, or “underage” marriage, and as recently as the 1950s, perhaps more recently (I haven't checked on when the law was changed) a 12-year-old girl (but not a boy!) could get married legally in one state. The charge that “if we legalize this, next we will be asked to legalize that,” is always raised when someone is opposed to the first one, but wants to try to scare people who are willing to permit it by bringing up the second, which he believes that fewer will accept. And that is a fallacious argument. If we legalize same-sex marriage, perhaps a movement will arise to legalize polygamy, but if you don't want to see polygamous marriages legalized, the time to oppose them is when that bill comes up. When we lowered the voting age to 18 from 21, people didn't complain that if we did that, soon we would have to lower it to 16, or 14, or 10, or even 7! Yet that's the same type of argument. What the proper voting age is can be debated — and I would be amenable to an age below 18, as I think that at 14, my political beliefs were already formed nearly fully — but the debate should center on what is the proper age, and not whether a lowering now leads to a further lowering later. And the same applies to expansion of who is allowed to marry legally.

Yes, I believe that same-sex marriage should be approved, but DOMA is not about that; it is about the Federal Government recognizing marriages that are already legal under state laws.

What Cal Thomas is really getting at, however, is contained in the next piece of his column:

Since we are rapidly discarding the rules for living and social order set down in a book found in most motel room drawers, what is to replace it? Opinion polls? Clever legal arguments? Fairness? What exactly does “fairness” mean and who decides what's fair? Many things may seem “unfair,” but not all can, or should, be addressed by courts.

Of course, the reference to “a book found in most motel room drawers” is to the Bible — what Thomas, of course, means is the Christian Bible, which has a number of books I do not recognize as scriptural, but let us not get into that debate here — and now we get into the First Amendment. There are people like Mr. Thomas who think that this amendment permits laws that are designed to impose the standards of one particular form of Christianity upon all of us, and clearly the purpose of this amendment was to prevent such laws. And I say “one particular form of Christianity” because, contrary to what Mr. Thomas may wish, there are churches that will perform same-sex marriages, so their clergy do not seem to think the Bible condemns them.

The Court is considering DOMA, and it is also considering the separate issue of whether states should be required to allow gay marriage. These are different issues. DOMA should be ruled unconstitutional because the Federal Government should not prevent a state's legal right to sanction a marriage from being recognized Federally. The other question is more nuanced. Ultimately, however, I think there is an equal-protection issue, and just as the Court held in Loving v. Virginia that people of different races should not be prevented from marrying, they ought to apply the same logic to people of the same sex. But there is a state's rights issue that points the other way. So this decision is less clear.

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