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.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Pennsylvania's marriage equality case

An article by Cheryl Wetzstein, entitled “Pennsylvania AG refuses to defend state marriage law,” appeared in the Washington Times. It deserves comment. It begins:

A lawsuit filed this week by gay couples against Pennsylvania’s marriage law got a major boost Thursday when the state’s top law officer said she would not defend the law.

“I cannot ethically defend the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s version of DOMA where I believe it to be wholly unconstitutional,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane said at a press conference.

She noted that she could authorize another state official to defend the state in litigation.

Pennsylvania General Counsel James D. Schultz said that his office “was surprised” that Ms. Kane, “contrary to her constitutional duty,” would decide not to defend a lawfully enacted law “merely because of her personal beliefs.”

Interesting. I would assume that “her constitutional duty” would include not defending a law, no matter how “lawfully enacted” it might appear to be, if, in her belief it was contrary to the Constitution of the United States. In fact, she has the duty to ignore any laws that contravene the Constitution.

Mr. Schultz said his office had not received formal notification of her decision yet, but would be reviewing the matter.

Ms. Kane’s announcement mirrors that of U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who, in concert with President Obama, refused to defend the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage for the purposes of federal law as only the union of one man and one woman.

And Mr. Holder was justified as well, as the Supreme Court has ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional, as the next few paragraphs of the Times' article helpfully explains:

A lesbian widow sued to overturn that provision of DOMA, and in June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down, saying that refusal to recognize gay couples legally married under state law was unconstitutional.

Now, of course, this is a different issue, involving state laws, and it needs to be resolved separately. But it is still a case of an official being charged with the duty not to violate the Constitution, and until the Supreme Court rules, her opinion on what the Constitution requires must guide her. This is the case in question:

On Monday, 10 same-sex couples and a lesbian widow filed a lawsuit against Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas W. Corbett and other state officials, including Ms. Kane, for enforcing Pennsylvania’s marriage DOMA.

Exclusion from marriage “undermines the plaintiff couples’ ability to achieve their life goals and dreams, threatens their mutual economic stability, and denies them a ‘dignity and status of immense import,’” said the American Civil Liberties Union complaint, citing language from its recently won U.S. Supreme Court case, United States v. Windsor.

The Pennsylvania case, Whitewood v. Corbett, filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, asks that Pennsylvania’s DOMA law also be overturned under the 14th Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses.

Other people, of course, believe differently:

Michael Geer, president of Pennsylvania Family Institute, said he and his allies believe Mr. Corbett, who was elected governor in 2010 is on record as supporting Pennsylvania’s marriage law, “will vigorously defend state law” and uphold marriage as “the unique and vital institution that benefits society and children by bringing together moms and dads.”

And if Corbett really believes the law is constitutional, he has to defend the law. However, Geer is acting in a very stupid manner:

If the ACLU thinks public opinion is so strong for gay marriage in Pennsylvania, “why not go through the political process,” where most significant policy decisions are made, Mr. Geer said.

It isn't public opinion that the ACLU is appealing to, it is the supreme law of the land, the Constitution of the United States. After all, there was, in the South, no public support for integration after the Brown v. Board of Education decision. It was simply an equal protection issue. And the ACLU is pursuing, as they have a right to do, this argument.

Instead, they are “short-circuiting the process and trying to get a federal judge to impose this redefinition [of marriage] on Pennsylvania, no matter what the people may think.”

Geer is, as conservatives try to do, defining this as a “redefinition of marriage”: but it is hardly a real redefinition; it is simply redefining who is eligible. When the vote was extended to 18 year olds, it did not “redefine” an election; it simply made more people eligible. This is no different.

Separately on Tuesday, longtime gay-marriage advocate Evan Wolfson said there is “irrefutable momentum” to bring gay marriage throughout America, but it will take a lot of public education and work in each state.

Gay-marriage advocacy groups will work “hand in glove” with litigation groups like the ACLU and Lambda Legal, Mr. Wolfson. But there is also a need for “education on the ground,” he said, noting that Freedom to Marry, the marriage-equality group he founded, is already investing $500,000 in state marriage campaigns.

The first states to be targeted for gay marriage are Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon and Hawaii. After that, gay-marriage campaigns are likely to be held in Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, he said.

Pennsylvania’s DOMA, enacted in 1996, says marriage is a “civil contract by which one man and one woman take each other for husband and wife.” It does not permit recognition for marriages between persons of the same sex from other jurisdictions.

Ms. Kane, a Democrat, was elected in 2012 with wide support, partly because she promised to review how the attorney general’s office handled the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal.

It seems ridiculous to me that people spend so much time and trouble defending the restriction of marriage to opposite-sex couples. It hurts nobody to allow same-sex couples to marry; it'e really a question of “if you don't want to marry another man (or woman if you're a woman), don't marry one!” But there is absolutely no reason, other than hostility toward homosexuals, to oppose marriage equality. I cannot see any one.

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