Tag Archives: marriage equality

Marriage Equality: Please Vote No in MN this November

No, wait, make that plain old equality. It’s just in the guise of marriage equality for now.

Minnesota, my state, is voting on a constitutional amendment this November to define marriage as between one man and one woman. There are a lot of ads out there. A lot of billboards, yard signs, you name it. Vote Yes! Vote No! All over the place.

I have to admit I smile every time I see a “vote no” bumper sticker. I smile even more when it’s a Catholic “vote no” sticker because that says to me that at least some religious people understand and potentially value secular government. Or maybe they just don’t want to treat a particular group of people as second class citizens.

I am not happy that we’re voting on this amendment. In Minnesota only heterosexual couples are allowed to marry one another right now. Basically what that means is we’re voting on an amendment that would more or less reaffirm the current laws. Do you have any idea what a tremendous waste of time that is?

This also means we’ll be voting on whether or not we want the past to rule the present and the future. To elaborate on that: by putting a constitutional amendment up to popular vote today we’re basically saying the current popular values, if those values are in favor of the amendment, should rule the future generations no matter the values of future generations. If the amendment is voted down it just means people today have no say on the nature of marriage tomorrow.

Could you imagine if prohibition had never been repealed? If that value from the past had stuck with us? We’d be living under a world decided far too heavily by past generations. One of the issues I have with this amendment (and I have many) is that it is a blatant attempt to prevent future generations from making up their own minds about their values. An amendment to the constitution should not be so value-based as this. Allowing women to vote was a good amendment because it brought more equality into the world. Prohibition was a bad amendment, not just because it drove production and distribution of alcohol underground, but because it was an attempt to impose one groups’ values on an entire country.

Beyond that I would like to share what Mayor Cory Booker from New Jersey has to say about marriage equality:

We should not be putting civil rights issues to a popular vote to be subject to the sentiments, the passions of the day. No minority should have their rights subject to the passions and sentiments of the majority. This is a fundamental bedrock of what our nation stands for.

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Activist? Or interpreting without bias?

In a partial win for marriage equality, DOMA was declared unconstitutional – making it possible that gay couples married legally (in any of the states that have marriage equality) will be eligible for all the same federal rights and benefits that heterosexual couples are eligible for (Social Security survivor benefits, joint tax filing, etc.). The ruling covers only the federal government’s role in marriage – it says nothing about all states recognizing gay marriage, for example. That’s why it’s only a partial win. It’s still great news.

This issue reminds me of the “activist judge” debate that appears now and then.

“Activist judges,” they say, are judges that make decisions that (others claim) are activism on the bench. Decisions in favor of gay marriage are sometimes called activist, and the judges called activists for them. I think the idea of an “activist judge” is more than just misguided, particularly in most of the real world cases in which that title has been invoked. In the case of gay marriage (or racial equality under the law, gender equality under the law, etc.), calling judges activists is not just misguided – it’s completely incorrect.

Instead, perhaps judges should be divided into (at least) two categories: traditionalists and interpreters.

Traditionalists seem to take traditional ideas – both of law and society – into account when making their decisions. Instead of reading the law and deciding based on what the laws actually say, they read the law from a perspective tinted by traditions – traditional marriage as between a man and woman, traditional race roles, traditional gender roles, traditional views of things like abortion or cloning. “Separate but equal” may be a good example of what I mean.

An interpreter, on the other hand, reads the laws and decides. We want this kind of judge because they are relatively unbiased. If the Constitution says all citizens are equal, all citizens are equal. If a law violates this, an interpreter would realize it and decide accordingly that the law is unconstitutional.

Instead of “activist” judges, we have judges willing to make decisions from a relatively unbiased viewpoint. That upsets people who want to hold tightly to their traditions and want the rest of their country or state to be forced into observing those traditions as well.

If the judges in the case I mentioned above were truly activists, they would have found some way to claim, rightly or wrongly, that states must recognize marriages between both hetero- and homosexual couples, or at least that states must recognize all marriages performed within other states*. Instead, the judges made a decision covering only a part (albeit important) of the problems with DOMA.

*I’m no legal scholar, but I’m pretty sure Article IV, Section 1 of the US Constitution says that marriages must be recognized across state lines (although the word “marriage” isn’t actually mentioned). At least that’s what they taught us it means in public school. Not sure how that can be ignored.

 Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.

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