Supreme Court marriage rulings shift American government tradition

We have always been a nation whose government serves by the consent of the governed, with separate and enumerated powers, states’ rights, rule of law and all that. Things have been ‘evolving,’ in popular parlance. With the Supreme Court rulings on marriage this week, we got a paradigm shift from self-government to ‘the tyranny of the majority,’ though that needs clarification to understand the meaning of “majority”, the way most of the language we’re using these days could benefit from clarification.

So just to recap quickly, John Adams, Alexis de Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill all referred to this term, roughly to mean ‘those who control the levers of power’, in my shorthand translation. Lord Acton put it thus:

The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.
—The History of Freedom in Antiquity, 1877

It’s apt, as Pope Benedict found it to be in his address to the UN General Assembly in 2008 warning about the consensus of the few in power not necessarily representing what’s best for the people they govern.

Which gets us to this week’s Supreme Court ruling.

There is much to unpack here. Some quick picks for first analysis:

NRO editors were succinct.

The Supreme Court declined to rule that every state in the country must recognize same-sex marriage, but do not be fooled. Five justices have taken the position that there is no rationale other than hostility to homosexuals for defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. When they believe the time is right to issue a more sweeping ruling, they will. This issue will no longer be one on which democratic deliberation is allowed.

There’s the throwdown. They decided a pair of cases, one involving Prop 8 and one involving DOMA. There are reams of commentaries to digest, but here’s a blast of clarity:

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the four Democratic appointees and himself, argues that the motivation for the law was a “bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group.” The Court is not saying merely that supporters of the historic understanding of marriage are wrong, or even merely that this understanding runs afoul of the Constitution (in some unspecified way: As Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent notes, Kennedy’s opinion is hard to pin down on the question). It is saying that the supporters bring nothing but bigotry to the discussion.

This follows the type of wording Kennedy has used for at least a decade, so it didn’t surprise Court watchers though it dismayed a segment of them.

But here’s an essential point:

The real argument for continuing to treat marriage as the union of a man and a woman is that marriage and marriage law exist to channel sexual behavior in a way that promotes the flourishing of children. They exist, that is, to solve a problem that does not arise in same-sex unions: that heterosexual sex often gives rise to children. They exist to uphold the ideal that children need the mother and father who created them to stay in a stable relationship together. Recognition of same-sex marriage means that the institution is no longer about those things.

That just stated the reasons for marriage law and the State’s interest in it. It also revealed the stark reality that marriage is what the consensus defines it as now.

This, I think, is important:

What should have mattered in court was that weighing that question is not their business. Justice Samuel Alito’s dissent got it right. “Same-sex marriage presents a highly emotional and important question of public policy — but not a difficult question of constitutional law,” he writes. The Constitution is neutral on whether governmental recognition of same-sex marriage will undermine the institution of marriage, strengthen it, or have no effect at all; it does not contemplate the question.

We could come to a full stop right there. But let’s move into another analysis piece about what the Court did, by the authors of ‘What Is Marriage?’

Here’s the least reported fact about yesterday’s rulings on marriage: the Supreme Court refused to give Ted Olson and David Boies, the lawyers suing to overturn Prop 8, what they wanted. The Court refused to redefine marriage for the entire nation. The Court refused to “discover” a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Citizens and their elected representatives remain free to discuss, debate, and vote about marriage policy in all fifty states. Citizens and their elected representatives still have the right to define marriage in civil law as the union of one man and one woman.

So those of you who believe in that had better go for it, because the window is closing. Because as the NRO editors concluded…

The justices have not yet decided that we who disagree are to be permitted no influence whatsoever on the country’s marriage laws, but the clock is ticking, and this Court has no patience for self-government.

Some of my expert guests on radio this week have said justices, particularly Kennedy, are just waiting for the case to be brought that will give them cause to redefine marriage for the entire nation. And inevitably, it will.

But in the meantime, consider what those who want that redefinition are after. Dr. Paul Kengor puts a fine lens on it, one that bears reflection. All other arguments aside for the moment, marriage re-definers are after fatherless or motherless families, if children are involved at all. And that’s something we should all be concerned about. We all used to be, not that long ago, as Kengor points out.

In a speech back in 2008, President Barack Obama was emphatic in championing fatherhood:

“We know the statistics – that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.

He added:

“Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation. … If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that what too many fathers also are is missing – missing from too many lives and too many homes. … We need fathers.

Amen to that. Who would disagree? Back then, no one. So, as Kengor asks…

…why are President Obama and the liberals suddenly pushing relentlessly for fatherless families – or, more specifically, for a new form of American families that are fatherless?

The answer, of course, is gay marriage. With their sudden embrace of gay marriage, a massive shift not only within America, American culture and human civilization, but also within the Democratic party, liberals/progressives nationwide are – whether they realize it or not – simultaneously advocating a redefinition of family that embraces fatherless ones. Think about it: married female-female parents will be households without dads.

Which used to be point – fatherless households – on which liberals and conservatives agreed. It was to be avoided whenever and however possible, because of the importance of fathers.

Kengor already cited Obama on this in 2008. Now he unifies – or universalizes – the message.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan described fathers as beacons of “strength and well-being” who are responsible for “leadership and direction and teaching them integrity, truth and humility.” He added, “Every father rises to his tallest stature as he selflessly cares for his family, his wife and his children.”…

A decade later, such sentiments were consistently reinforced by Democratic president Bill Clinton, who understood the toll delivered by fatherless homes…

That principle remains unchanged. What has changed, however, is liberals/progressives’ fierce acceptance and advancement of gay marriage. In this rapid push, they are jettisoning this national consensus on fathers, demanding a form of parenting that excludes fathers. As for those who disagree with their new paradigm, they are derided as cruel, thoughtless bigots, with no possible legitimate reason for their unenlightened position.

Actually, what today’s liberals are advocating is far more radical than that. They are pushing not only for fatherless families but also, conversely, motherless families. Think about it: married male-male parents (the other half of gay marriage) will be households without moms.

Everyone reading my words knows that mothers are utterly irreplaceable. That’s a statement of the obvious…

Why would anyone, let alone a country or culture, want to open the door for a reconstitution of parenthood and family that, by literal definition, excludes mothers?

So implied in all this is the whole category of human beings whose rights aren’t as often advocated for, because they don’t have such powerful, well funded and well connected advocates. The children.

As President Obama said in 2008, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that children need fathers. Yes, if we’re honest. They need fathers, and mothers.

Obama is failing to communicate

Some may question President Obama’s leadership skills. But his ability to communicate has been called near-magical. Until about now…

truthout is concerned.

Barack Obama may be one of the best communicators of this generation, but he is not living up to his own talents. In a year of disasters, communication failure doubles the disasters.

If, as he says, the monster spill was his highest priority from Day 1, he needed to communicate that from Day 1 – or at least Day 3 or 4. It took five weeks for him to tell the nation what he and his administration were doing. The result was visible in the press conference [last week]. He was on the defensive. He needed to be on the offensive – from early on. The choice is not doing or communicating. It is doing **and** communicating.

His base is getting disgruntled. They’re trying really hard to excuse missteps, but there are so many of them now.

Crises are opportunities. He has consistently missed them. Today was a grand opportunity to pull together the threads – BP and the spill, Massey and the mine disaster, Wall Street and the economic disaster, Anthem BlueCross and health care, the Arizona Immigration Law, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, even Afghanistan. The press threw him fastballs straight down the middle, and he hit dribblers every time.

They are being honest. The press have continually thrown him fastballs straight down the middle, just longing for him to nail them with the finesse he showed in his campaign for this office. But he is….discombobulated in his responses, when he does respond.

It’s not that he said nothing to tie them together.  But there was no home run, no unifying narrative, no patriotic call to the nation on the full gamut of issues. Instead, there were only hints, suggestions, possible implications, notes of concern – as if he had been intimidated by the right-wing message machine.

So there it is. He has lost his empathy, and the right-wing is to blame.

Some questions: What would a “unifying narrative” sound like? What would it encompass? What’s the operative definition of ‘patriotic’ these days?

This piece has the potential to be good debate material, and the writer does make clear his ideology and worldview that informs his morals. Good. Establish your premise and make a reasonable case. But where it descends into standard divisive political sniping…is right here, on the issue of empathy as “the central narrative of American democracy.”

But to make it central and powerful would be confrontational. It would bring him head-to-head with right-wing ideology – empathy-free, self-interest maximizing, with disdain or even hatred for those seen as lesser beings. It is self-reinforcing:  a value-system that above all promotes that value-system itself. That is why right-wing Republicans always vote no to his proposals. Because to vote yes would strengthen an empathy-based moral system and weaken their own.

This devolves even further…

Because right-wing ideology takes precedence over empathy, there will be little or any real bipartisanship with those on the hard-core right.  The right is provoking confrontation. It cannot be avoided. The president should be confronting the right wing on all issues – not issue-by-issue as a policy wonk, but with the master moral narrative that makes sense of our country’s values.

Yes, we should have debate over the moral narrative that has always been central to the American identity. But one that extends the presumption of good intentions on those who disagree. One that both makes a reasoned case for principle and listens to a counter-argument, in the classical sense of intellectual argument. And one that follows an idea through to its logical conclusion. Because  a good debate could be had over what truly constitutes empathy, for one thing.

The writer lists several things the president ‘should’ do. One of the last is this:

The president should ask the First Lady to sponsor a major government program to do research on and support empathetic parenting, along the lines of his 2008 Father’s Day speech.

That was a very good speech, inspiring to hear Obama challenge men to be responsible in their fatherhood. So about empathetic parenting…let’s have an honest and reasonable discussion about how abortion squares with that. Because in that Father’s Day speech, Obama emphasized that fatherhood doesn’t end at conception.  And besides being a great point, it reinforced the fact of human biology…that at conception, a child exists. So let’s hear more, indeed.