Take yourself back to those days in the 1700’s when our Founding Fathers met in Philadelphia to decide on what sort of government we would have. There were those who favored a strong central one that essentially controlled almost everything. They were opposed to those who wanted power defused and given to the states. The arguments, often heated, went back and forth until finally an imaginative compromise was reached; i.e. why can’t we have some of both?
The result was a central government with carefully enumerated and limited powers, with those not vested in the nation’s capitol assigned to the states. Simply put, power was dispersed. However, with the introduction of the Bill of Rights, authored by James Madison, the individual was protected from the unwarranted or even tyrannical use of power by any government agency, whether at the national or state level. Moreover, our Constitution’s 14th Amendment expressly gave to every citizen, equal protection under the law.
Within this compromise and guarantee of individual freedoms, there has always been an uneasy tension between each new generation of those who want a strong central government and those who champion states’ rights. As we move to the here and now, this tension is playing itself out in the debate and legal action that pertain to states’ bans on gay marriage.
States’ rights advocates insist that every state has the right to establish its own unique rules regarding same-sex marriage; basically to place a ban on it. In some states, the question of whether or not to allow same-sex marriage was actually decided in the negative by a majority of resident citizens. This result was clearly an expression of the will of the people.
The fundamental problem is that the “will of the people” flew in the face of the aforementioned “equal protection” clause. In effect, a majority, no matter how well-intended, had decided by vote to deny equal rights to individuals. Not surprisingly, this matter ended up in court where one-by-one, federal judges have struck down the bans. Nowhere did this scenario play itself out with great clarity than in Oklahoma, a state that now must, by judicial ruling, allow for gays to wed.
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallon lambasted the deciding court, labeling it as “activist” and as having disregarded the “will of the people”. Such rhetoric has no basis in law or the Constitution. Fallon’s remarks are self-serving in nature; designed to shore up her bona fides among conservative Oklahomans. As such, it is a sad commentary on her level of political courage, “leadership”, and understanding of where states’ rights end and when the federal government must step in to protect the rights of individuals, no matter how small a minority they represent.
At base, what we have among states’ rights devotees is a complete disregard for this fundamental principle: INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS TRUMP STATES’ RIGHTS, AND PER THE CONSTITUTION, IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO INSURE THAT THOSE INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS ARE PROTECTED. It is ironic that this disregard is so prevalent among some many people on the right who piously advance themselves as the country’s only true defenders of the Constitution. Clearly, their defense is predicated on only those parts of the document with which they agree. The rest? Not so much!!!