Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Same Sex Marriage, Democracy, and a flashback to High School Civics

There have been a couple of big news items lately on the same-sex marriage front. The Vermont state legislature overrode the governor's veto of a bill allowing same sex couples to enjoy the same rights and legal protections that heterosexual couples get. This comes only weeks after Iowa's state Supreme Court overturned a ban on same sex marriage on constitutional grounds. This has given hope to those of us who support equal rights; hope that was sorely needed after California voters passes Proposition 8 with the help of lots of outside money. (California's state Supreme Court may yet overturn the ban.)

Those who oppose equality for same-sex couples normally find their rationale in a particular reading of the Bible that assumes parts of the Levitical purity codes are authoritative, even as they enjoy pulled pork barbecue, shrimp cocktails, and polyester fabrics. But in their attempt to hold together the Reagan-era alliance with economic conservatives, they often couch their objections in "principles of democracy". They argue that the people have the right to decide what should and should not be allowed in society, and that it violates the Constitution when courts overrule the will of the majority. (No such luck in Vermont, though.)

(Quick disclaimer: yes, I'm a preacher and some folks get very nervous when preachers get political. But I also hold a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science. Take that for what it's worth.)

To that objection, allow me to take us on a trip back in time to High School Civics/Government class. One of the first things we learned in said class was a concept called "Checks and Balances", where each branch of government is able to keep the others from going too crazy. The President is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, but Congress has to declare war (at least, until the War Powers Act was passed). Congress makes laws but the President has to sign them. Most folks understand and appreciate that, but we tend to forget about the Judiciary Branch of government. It is this branch of government's job to interpret the Constitution, and they are empowered by said document to nullify laws and other actions of the other two branches of government if they are found to be in violation. Thus, the power of the people's elected representatives is checked and balanced.

The best example is when the Supreme Court ruled on the case of Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education in 1954, reversing its own ruling in 1896 in the case of Plessy vs. Ferguson and declaring that racial segregation was unconstitutional. The decision in the Brown case was against the will of the majority of people in the United States at the time, but it was the right thing to do.

So before we start whining about "activist judges" and "legislating from the bench", let's take a step back and remember that it is the job of the Judicial Branch of government to check and balance the power of majority rule.

On the other hand, if you want to argue against same-sex marriage using the Bible, go ahead and do so. I would argue that there is nothing about the issue in the Bible, but that is a subject for another post. By the way, democracy is never endorsed anywhere in the Bible, and majority rule is treated with no small amount of contempt, particularly in the Old Testament.


Katie Z. said...

thanks matt! you said very eloquently thoughts that have been crossing my mind recently. I guess the political science degree helps =)

And as an Iowan, all I have to say is "woo hoo!"

Jill said...

Good post- I'm all for equality! My question to you, for those who will want to use this argument, is what would you say to those who want to use Genesis for their defense against same-sex relationships? Ie, the belief that God created men and women for each other? You know it's going to come up!

Anonymous said...

When judges take the law into their own hands and shape it to suit their own deviant social-view, it is nothing less than activism and not justice. When judges act to normalize a sexually aberrant lifestyle, there is no obligation on the part of anyone to accept such a twisted ruling as legitimate. When judges set aside the will of the majority freely expressed in the elective and legislative process, then judges need to be removed from their office for judicial misconduct.