Monday, April 1, 2013

Answering Scalia's Question

During oral arguments over the repeal of Proposition 8, Justice Antonin Scalia asked the following question of Ted Olson, one of the attorneys arguing for the repeal: "I’m curious, when—when did—when did it become unconstitutional to exclude homosexual couples from marriage? 1791? 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted?" Mr. Olson's answer was rather labored and tentative. To paraphrase his reply, he asserted that this change had happened at some indeterminable point when society realized that sexual orientation is not a matter of choice. Not being a lawyer, I am not aware of the possible legal reasons behind Mr. Olson's evasiveness. Still, I can not help expressing dissatisfaction with this answer.

From my perspective, the answer to Justice Scalia's question is quite clear: denial of marriage equality became unconstitutional with the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment and its guarantee to all citizens of "the equal protection of the laws." There is no network of legal obligations in which a citizen is enmeshed so binding or significant as the family, and there is no familial relationship more intimate than with one's spouse. This latter fact is a function of U.S. law, and may be deemed a hallmark and prime achievement of our American Revolution. In the Old World the obligations borne to one's natal family trumped that to one's spouse (blood was, as they said, thicker than water). In America, one's spouse became one's next-of-kin, because we recognized that weight should be given to the one family relationship that was entered into freely and of one's own volition. In a democracy, choice trumps birth.

Anyone excluded from the marital compact is deprived of this ability- the power to choose one's closest relative. Given that under federal law alone, marital status conveys 1,138 rights and benefits, anyone barred from the institution of marriage can not possibly be said to enjoy "the equal protection of the law." Unless one is willing to completely discount the role of love in family life, there is no way to square the denial of marriage equality with the imperative of the equal protection clause.

Putting a date on this change is less paradoxical that it may sound. We should not confuse the time when a law became unconstitutional with the point at which it "became" wrong. It was always wrong to deny human beings the equal protection of the law on the basis of race. The fact that it only became unconstitutional and illegal in 1868 did not make it any less wrong in 1791. On the same principle, the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage always denied them the equal protection of the law. The fact that we are only realizing it now did not make it any less unconstitutional in 1868.  The constitution is not a guide to right or wrong, it is a set of rules by which the organs of our government are bound. As our understanding advances, the implications of those rules change. Now that we know that marriage discrimination deprives millions of our citizens the equal protection of the law, we are bound by our own constitution to the establishment of marriage equality. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Connecticut (II, redux) Senator Richard Blumenthal

Today I correspond with Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat, junior senator of Connecticut:

To the Honorable Senator Richard Blumenthal,

       Since your recent election to the Senate, you have been an outspoken opponent of marital discrimination, co-sponsoring the "Respect for Marriage Act" that would repeal DOMA and secure the rights of same-sex couples at the federal level. Though this is a courageous and necessary step, full civil rights will not be extended to eveyone until rights of marriage equality are secured for all Americans living in all states of the union. To that end, I would like to see the federal constitution amended to read: "The right to marry shall not be abridged or denied by the United States or any state on account of sex or sexual orientation." If you would propose such an amendment to Congress, it would broadcast to the world the sincerity and commitment of those of us on the right side of this issue. Proponents of atrocities like DOMA and Proposition 8 wrap themselves in the cloak of tradition and piety. The time is right to let the world know that those of us who believe in marriage equality do so on the basis of principles and values that we hold no less sacred, and that we would see these values enshrined in our nation's basic law.
       Please give some thought to this idea, and consider acting on it in due course. In any case, I hope this communication finds you well, and thank you for your attention on this matter.

               Sincerely,

                Andrew Meyer

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Arizon (II, redux) Senator John Boozman

After a long hiatus, I correspond with Senator John Boozman, who defeated Blanche Lincoln to become Arkansas' junior Senator in 2010.

To the Honorable Senator John Boozman,

       I write to you in protest of your opposition to marriage equality for all Americans. In response to President Obama's recent support of marriage equality, you objected, declaring that discrimination in favor of heterosexual couples is "the way it has been for centuries and I don’t think we need to change that.” You also provided the excuse of your status as a representative, asserting that "the vast majority of [Arkansas] feels like [marriage] should be between a man and a woman."

      Both of these arguments are specious, and beneath the dignity of your office. Centuries ago marriage was a vastly different institution than it is today. Wives were considered the chattel of their husbands, couples of different races could not marry, individuals could be forced into marriage against their will. All of these practices, despite having been supported by large majorities, were recognized as being incommensurate with basic civil rights and reformed, just as discrimination against same-sex couples will end in our lifetime.

      I urge you to consider your legacy and to cross over to the right side of history. Future generations will remember those who stood for discrimination as the enemies of progress. Rather than voting to amend the U.S. constitution to strip citizens of their rights, as you have done, you should support the amendment of the constitution to end discrimination and to secure the 1,138 rights and benefits of marriage under federal law for all citizens: "The right to marry shall not be abridged or denied by the United States or any state on account of sex or sexual orientation." Enshrining this principle in our basic law will advance the fulfillment of the founding principle of our Republic.


      Thank you for your attention on this matter. I hope this communication finds you well.


         Sincerely,


          Andrew Meyer

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cut the Glitter

Though it has been a shamefully long time since I posted on this blog, a recent event compels me to speak up. On Tuesday, May 17, activist Nick Espinosa dumped a box of glitter on GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, in protest of Gingrich's opposition to marriage equality. Though I would agree that, "Anyone telling people who [sic] they can and cannot love is offensive, especially coming from a serial adulterer like Newt," I cannot approve of Espinosa's actions. Condemning and even embarrassing those who would discriminate against their fellow Americans is legitimate, but no political protest is acceptable that actually trespasses upon the physical person of the target.

This principle has become especially urgent in the wake of the shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords, and does not apply only in the movement for marriage equality but for all Americans of any political persuasion. Though glitter may seem harmless and "fun," Espinosa's use of it exposed vulnerabilities in Gingrich's security that might be exploited by those who mean him actual harm. Security personnel are acutely aware of this fact, and will adjust the public profile of Gingrich and other similar public figures to close off these vulnerabilities in future. Even if incidents like Espinosa's don't open the door to further violence, the sum effect of such actions will be to radically curtail the accessibility of all figures across the entire political spectrum, bleeding our civic life and politics of much of its dynamism and openness.

As a society we must adopt a "zero tolerance" policy to any and all physical assaults on public officials and politicians. Either the persons of our officials and politicians are sacrosanct, or we condemn ourselves to living in a police state in which the "political class" is forever insulated from the public it serves. To pranksters like Espinosa, I say: cut the crap. Speaking truth to power with humor is all fine and good, but physical comedy is not a funny matter when it comes to politics.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Illinois (II) Senator Richard Durbin

Today I resume my correspondence with Senator Richard Durbin, Democrat, senior senator from Illinois:

To the Honorable Senator Richard Durbin,

I write to you seeking your support for a constitutional amendment that would end the discriminatory practice of marriage in our country. Such a Marriage Equality Amendment would read: "The right to marry shall not be abridged or denied by the United States or any state on account of sex or sexual orientation."

During the Bush administration, you repeatedly voted against proposed amendments that would have permanently institutionalized marital discrimination in the United States. That defense of basic civil rights was laudatory, but it is not enough to defend against travesties such as the so-called "marriage protection amendment," for the status quo as it stands in most of the Union is an intolerable breach of the rights of millions of Americans. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees "equal protection of the laws" to all citizens, yet thousands of couples and their children are denied the 1,138 protections and benefits deriving from married status under federal law in deference to the social prejudices of a portion of the population. The constitution must be newly amended, therefore, to clarify the scope of the "equal protection" clause and secure the basic rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" for all Americans.

You have been an outstanding leader in the cause of promoting American support for human rights abroad, please consider joining this fight to promote civil rights here at home. I thank you for your attention and hope that this message finds you well.

Sincerely,

Andrew Meyer

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Don't Ask Don't Tell

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen based his opposition to the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on a fallacy. DADT does not require Jewish soldiers to "lie about who they are," it only requires that they serve with discretion. Jews are free to serve in the military as long as they keep their private business to themselves.

If openly Jewish soldiers were allowed to serve in the military, this would have an irreparably harmful effect on unit cohesion. The bonds of trust that are key to military life would be unsustainable if soldiers knew that their fellow soldiers were Jews. Can we reasonably ask a young recruit to trust the comrade he shares a foxhole with if he knows he is a Jew?

Moreover, one can not help but fear that the repeal of DADT is only the prelude of a further expansion of the Jewish agenda. Next we will no doubt be asked to allow a Jewish soldier to bring his or her Jewish spouse and Jewish children to live on base, so that they may make public display of their Jewish lifestyle for other military families to see. One can only wonder what offenses to good taste and decency will result then.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Illinois (I) Senator Roland Burris

Today I continue with Senator Roland Burris, Democrat, junior senator from Illinois:

To the Honorable Roland W. Burris,

I write to you soliciting your support for a Marriage Equality Amendment to the federal constitution that would recognize the right of same-sex couples to marry throughout the United States. Such an amendment would read: "The right to marry shall not be abridged or denied by the United States or any state on account of sex or sexual orientation." Such a change to our basic law is necessary to bring our institutions into alignment with the natural rights of all of our citizens.

You have been eloquent in exalting the cause of civil rights, declaring: "America's story is a story of ever greater equality- of expanding inclusiveness. Thanks to all those who came before us, this nation is more free, more fair, and more equal than the nation of our forefathers. We are all a part of this story- in fact, it is up to us to write the next chapter." These words are resoundingly true, and it is with the issue of marriage equality that the "next chapter" in the great struggle for civil rights begins.

Though our nation is more fair than it once was, our marriage laws arbitrarily discriminate against tens of thousands of families, with cruel effect. Children are impoverished or subjected to insecurity because their parents' union is unrecognized. Couples that have been together for decades are kept apart or prevented from giving one-another vital assistance because their love does not meet the test of social prejudice. In 1967, in the case of Loving versus Virginia, the Supreme Court ruled that to deny citizens' the right to marry on the basis of race was a violation of the fundamental principles at the core of human happiness and fulfillment. That same violation continues today for millions of Americans, because society deems it acceptable to discriminate on the basis of gender where it does not on the basis of race. This is not justice. It is, rather, a call to action- to write our portion of the story of which, as you say, we are all a part.

Though the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees all citizens "the equal protection of the law," that safeguard has obviously failed to prevent millions from being deprived of rights of marriage equality. A Marriage Equality Amendment is thus necessary to redress the moral injustice perpetuated by the current state of our laws. Your post in the senate gives you a powerful platform from which to address this issue, Senator. Would you be the voice that speaks up in support of the right? Such an act would inspire millions, and would perfectly embody the principles you so eloquently espoused. Whatever your decision, I thank you for your attention on this matter and extend my best wishes for the new year. I hope this letter finds you well.

Sincerely,

Andrew Meyer