In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays a weatherman who finds himself living the same day over and over again. In the wake of another Supreme Court decision that opened the door for gay marriage in more states, listening to critics of the decision is a bit like being stuck on Groundhog Day; the arguments are still as illogical, intolerant and inconsistent as ever.
When courts in several circuits overturned five states’ constitutional bans on gay marriage, those states appealed the cases to the U.S. Supreme Court. On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear any of the cases, effectively upholding the decision of the lower courts and de facto allowing same-sex marriage in those states. The decision set off a widespread ripple effect: it cleared the way for gay marriage in states that have struggled with bans against it for years, sending a significant hint that the Court would rule in favor of striking down a ban if an appeals court were to uphold one, which has yet to happen.
Yet, irrationality still reins supreme (no pun intended) in conservative land. Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, labeled the decision a “violation of states’ rights,” stating, “the will of the people has now been overridden by unelected federal justices, accountable to no one.”
Ted Cruz, a Texan senator and two-time winner of the Values Voter Summit straw poll, which made him a favorite for a presidential candidate in 2016, vowed to take constitutional action. “[Marriage] is a question for the states,” Cruz said. “I will be introducing a constitutional amendment to prevent the federal government or the courts from attacking or striking down state marriage laws.”
To be fair, Cruz and Fallin might not represent the mainstream Republican Party, but that could change if Cruz is as successful at motivating the religious right in 2016 as he was at the straw poll. Yet, what is more troubling is the conservative willingness to argue for states’ rights when it’s convenient, and to willfully ignore states’ rights when it’s not.
This willful ignorance usually happens when those evil unelected federal justices on the Supreme Court (who happen to occupy a 5-4 majority in favor of the conservatives on many issues, to be clear) make plenty of rulings that are both incredibly activist and conservative-friendly. Take, for example, McDonald v. Chicago, a five conservative to four liberal justice decision that struck down a gun ban and applied the second amendment’s protection of the right to bear arms to the states. Did anyone hear the conservative party complain that the Supreme Court had taken away the states’ rights to set their own gun laws?
You might be thinking, “The second amendment protects the right to bear arms, so that should apply to the states too” — and you would be right: the Supreme Court, in many decisions, has applied select amendments in the bill of rights as binding to the states. In Windsor v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal definition of marriage as between one man and one women deprived homosexual couples of their fifth amendment right to equal protection and due process. Though the Windsor decision also recognized the right of states to set their own definition, it (and subsequent actions) strongly suggested any state definition that excluded homosexual marriage would be found discriminatory and overturned. The point is, conservatives will always complain about that — but never complain when the Supreme Court intervenes in state affairs in other instances, and that’s hypocrisy.
Neither states nor the federal government should be able to discriminate against people based on sexual orientation. Conservatives would do well to recognize that if anything, this is a matter the government is best left out of. To further demonstrate the purely ancient nature of some of these Republicans’ arguments, let’s take one of the best soundbites against gay marriage of all:
“Gay marriage is a matter to be decided by each state. The states must determine if they feel it is of benefit to society.”
Oops, I mistyped that. That wasn’t a Republican opposing gay marriage — that was George Wallace, one of the most outwardly racist politicians in history, opposing civil rights for blacks in 1964. Here’s what he actually said:
“Integration is a matter to be decided by each state. The states must determine if they feel it is of benefit to both races.”
The similarity is too strong to be ignored, and the bigotry is too sharp to be silent about. So listen up, social conservatives — it’s time to stop using “states’ rights” as an excuse to discriminate. Do you hear the telephone? It’s the 1960s calling, and they want their bigotry back.
Nathaniel Haas is a junior majoring in political science and economics. His column, “State of the Union,” runs Fridays.