Reconciling the Right’s Cognitive Dissonance on Marriage

Texas Governor and perpetually undecided presidential candidate Rick Perry explains his stance on gay marriage. It’s a state decision, through and through.

Our friends in New York six weeks ago passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex. And you know what? That’s New York, and that’s their business, and that’s fine with me. That is their call. If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business.

Remarkable consistency, with none of the conscious attempt to honor both of the conflicting impulses of “states’ rights” and fundamentalism. On the flip side, New York Magazine pegs Michele Bachmann’s stance as nonsensical, the result of trying to pander to both camps:

I do support a constitutional amendment on marriage between a man and a woman, but I would not be going into the states to overturn their state law.

But is that inconsistent? I see no conflict here, but to reach that conclusion, we have to imbue Mrs. Bachmann with perhaps more of an intellect than she deserves. Bachmann’s stance admits of a guiding principle; it’s just a legal principle, not a moral one. If we accept the tea party idea that every bit of government power should be laid out explicitly in the Constitution, a federal definition of marriage, accomplished by act of Congress, would be an invasion of states’ rights, in a way that a constitutional amendment is not. Admittedly this dilutes the principle that the government is best which governs least, but it’s in line with a model of federalism requiring strictly enumerated powers. Constitutional theocracy: it’s the American way, to some, apparently.


  1. It really doesn’t occur to you that, when we’re talking about the US Constitution, there’s no difference between a legal principle and a moral principle; they’re one and same when in the Constitution.

  2. How do you figure? Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003) (“this Court’s obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate its own moral code.”).

  3. You’re citing an immaterial case. That the Court understood that it was disallowed from defining its own moral code doesn’t alter the unchangeable fact that the Constitution is moral document as much as, if not more, than it is a legal document.

    It is divine law – morality – as handed down to our Founders for the creation of America.

  4. HAHAHAHAHAHA. Ah, this is some Cleon Skousen bullshit. Nah, some crazy Mormon guy doesn’t speak for the Founders.

    But, I’m open to being convinced. You’ve stated the conclusion, now make the argument.

    1. If you honestly believe that men, operating solely within the limits of mankind’s minds, created the singularly most set of laws governing the powers of a federal government then I can’t help you. No argument that could make would persuade you.

      If you cannot even see that the constitution is a moral document, as opposed to merely a legal instrument, then I certainly can’t help you and have no hope for you.

    2. One thing I’ve never understood about this “divinely inspired” ‘argument’: If the Constitution comes from God, why does it contain an amendment process? God is perfect, so surely no document inspired by Him would ever need to be amended?

      Also, if the Constitution in its original, final form was divinely inspired, does that mean those of the Founders who at any point voted against one of its provisions are bad people? Because I’m pretty sure that includes more or less all of them.

      1. Haha! There is that. And, I think the whole “divinely inspired” story of document generation rather has to break down, of necessity, when we have extensive, written documentation of the writing process, and especially when it occurred just outside of living memory.

        Jonolan, why do you need a god to explain human ingenuity?

      2. It include the capacity for refinement because man is very much not perfect.

        As for your later quasi-question – No. As I said man is flawed and I’m sure that the mortal process by which the Gods arranged for our constitution was part of Their plan.

        We’re flawed but can improve. I’m sure the Gods acted as they did to allow us to grow, just as you must let your children fall in order to allow them to learn to walk and later run.

        1. Traditionally, the whole point of claiming legitimacy through reference to divine inspiration is that it removes the need to account for human fallibility – so I’m not really sure what the point is if you need to do that anyway.

          That said, I must admit I’m intrigued by what Gods you’re talking about? Don’t see that in the plural too often.

    3. Jonolan: Put another way, you don’t understand it well enough to describe it. You just say it and expect me to let it slide. No thanks :).

      Have you read anything about the founding? The Constitution, and all our founding documents, were the product of some of the most intense politicking & negotiating in human history, with some brilliant, highly educated men. That’s a singular accomplishment, but it’s one that belongs to men. I can’t imagine why you’d want to deprive humanity of its accomplishments.

      1. I addressed your second point slightly above i nthe course of answering someone else.

        As for your other statement – Put it yet another way, how can I explain the color blue to a blind man?

  5. I’m curious – now that gay marriage has passed in New York (and I supect will pass in CA on the next go around) the longterm goal still a SCOTUS decision or would you all be happy if states continued to allow it on a one-by-one basis?

    I believe the later is much, much smarter. It’s amazing how much more accepting of change that people are when it happens at a more local level. Look at medical marijuana, for example. If it had been a national movement people would have gone bonkers. Instead it’s changing on a state-by-state basis and you hardly hear a peep.

    1. First one, then t’other. The comparison seems to be coming nearer to the women’s rights movement, instead of the racial equality movement. Women’s rights progressed lightly by Supreme Court decision, then largely by Congressional statute.

      But there still has to be some positive law underlying congressionally-conferred rights, or the entire construct is vulnerable, or remains a patchwork in backwards states. So what I’d expect is state-by-state adoption approaching a majority of the jurisdictions — or all jurisdictions likely to adopt democratically — followed by a Supreme Court decision mandating that the rest follow suit. But by then the decision could be as a matter of federalism, or something.

      1. So then what are the repurcussions if it makes it to SCOTUS now?

      2. It won’t.

        Of course it should, for all the reasons that make “A Dream Deferred” an important poem. But as a practical matter we won’t see a merits decision.

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