States’ rights not a license to discriminate

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.

Lili Scarlet Sedano  | Daily Trojan

Lili Scarlet Sedano | Daily Trojan

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. 


6 replies
  1. Liberty Minded
    Liberty Minded says:

    Do we need the state to manage marriage? At the time of the founding, marriage was only by churches. Why did the state get involved in marriage? Several religions and politicians pushed the state into regulating marriage. Is marriage better now? Will watering down the exclusiveness of marriage make it better? Can you call gay unions “marriage” and have the participants get the same results of the unions between a man and a woman? I.E. married men live longer than single men – will that accrue for two gay men that “marry”? It will take decades before we find out if this experiment will benefit the parties involved and/or society at large.

    The federal government does not have a stellar record when it comes to intervention in the private affairs of its citizens or in the affairs of other states. I doubt that the latest intervention into marriage will be positive for either the participants or the society as a whole.

  2. Don Harmon
    Don Harmon says:

    Nathaniel needs to study the US Constitution. 1) States have rights to pass laws where those rights are not taken by the Federal Government in the US Constitution; and 2) Where the states pass laws contrary to the US Constitution, US Federal Courts may void them in cases are brought before them; and 3) Laws in violation of the US Constitution are not legitimate in one state or in any states.

  3. John
    John says:


    We have definitely evolved into a secular society though in actuality we are a covenant nation. If your not sure what that means look it up. This is not for the betterment of society. I have no doubt the founders are rolling in their graves. Maybe you need to take some history classes and learn what those guys stood for and the principles that they founded this country on. Regardless of changing times or the preservation of the equal protection clause, the gay agenda which has become so pronounced in liberal media and Hollywood was not part of that. The efforts to desensitize folks isn’t going to fool anyone with half a brain. They couldn’t have foreseen the stamp of approval for such deviant behavior that wants joyful recognition. The gays belong in the closet where they have been. Nobody other than loser liberals, activist federal judges, and the Marxist president desire to see gay recognition in all 50 states. It is a stark reminder of the twisted agenda the liberals want to pave for this country. I have nothing against gays but they can do whatever they need to do in society whether is getting their own health care or bequeathing their assets prior to death. I have heard the cry about federal benefits but that’s hogwash. They want to viewed as the same as any other couple but that is outright ridiculous. Men poking each other in the butt and women munching on one another is far from what I would call a marriage. Homosexuals are not a minority, they are an abnormality in society. Everything about being gay in contrary to nature and if we seek to give that lifestyle a stamp of approval it goes to show how immoral folks have become in this day and age. But, who cares right? As long as nobody bothers me. As for gun rights, we have a specific amendment for that. There is no amendment for sexual lifestyles and marriage, though recent attempts by a former administration and the states have apparently been dumped due to activist judges. I am not sure if you have any morals or ethics running in your blood stream, but the core values and beliefs of the liberals contain none. Sure you found an old quote that is eerily similar, but let’s not use that for trashing conservatives abroad today and giving sanctity to the gay argument when it was regarding a class of people, not a deviant sexual lifestyle. So yes, let the states handle this issue because we don’t need the federal government forcing stuff down the throats of all states and the country. Less government is better whether you understand that or not. If were currently a one-party system you would realize the grim reality of that existence. But, then the liberals could have everything they want, a free-for-all society where anything goes and lots of government handouts.

    “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right.” Thomas Paine, Common Sense

  4. Benjamin Roberts
    Benjamin Roberts says:

    Nate.. I enjoy your columns which are generally reasoned and articulate. However, unfortunately on this issue you are repeating the the same tiresome rhetoric. The largely unspoken reality on this issue is that “gay marriage” and the “rights of gays to marry” is somewhat of a misnomer. Gays have always had the right to marry, and back in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s they often did, in an effort to hide their homosexuality. On the other hand, many gays actively choose to forgo their right to marry BECAUSE they are NOT attracted to the opposite sex. If you think this is just semantics, you’d be largely correct because “marriage” is a GENDER-SPECIFIC TERM, which is to say that it has always been defined, specifically, as a religious or civil union between one man and one woman. What we are seeing happening today is simply a redefinition of a gender-specific term, and that should alarm anyone (and certainly alarms conservatives).

    I think the gay community will ultimately live to regret the overbearing and inorganic way in which they achieved their goal of redefining marriage. Very few states have actually voted in favour of it. The overwhelming majority of states where marriage has been redefined is (as you acknowledge) the result of judges or state legislatures.

    Certainly you can point to racists, bigots or homophobes on the right, but I promise you will find them on the left as well. Plenty of them in fact. So, once you discount the extremists, you will find fair, intelligent and reasoned people who believe that it is a terrible shame that so many can not distinguish the difference between providing marriage RIGHTS to homosexuals vs. changing the definition of a gender specific term. Changing the definition makes as much sense as allowing a gay male monarch to call himself a “queen” instead of a “king”, simply because he feels “left out”, or because he “feels” like a female. (Yes, the pun is amusing, but the point is serious.)

    Let’s look at another moment in history: When women were correctly and finally granted the right to vote, we didn’t suddenly call them “men”… but rather we gave them the same rights as men. In reality, the courts at each level could easily have recused themselves on this very basis by affirming that the court is not at liberty to change the definition of gender-specific terms – and that the legislatures must be engaged in the granting of rights.

    As to the point about states’ rights issues vs. federal issues, anyone studied in the law knows that generally those issues not specifically reserved for the federal government in our constitution are instead left up to the states. Marriage, therefore, has typically been left up to the states to govern. In this regard, issues pertaining to marriage licenses, marriage officiating, legal age for marriage, etc, have all been decided by the states individually. This is far different from RE-DEFINING marriage itself.

    I ask: Is this the world we want to live in? Do we really want to melt down and homogenize the beautiful and special things that make the genders unique? And do we really believe in our minds and souls that these differences don’t exist? and are not special? I will continue to deliver a simple message I’ve shared a number of times: Stop chasing equality!! It’s not the right goal. Instead, chase FAIRNESS. That is the correct goal because things in life and nature are rarely equal… but they should be fair. Sometimes you will find that your pursuit of fairness results in equality.. .but sometimes it won’t. We are all special and different and unique, and part of that difference is because of gender. We should embrace that, not destroy it.

    Finally… For all the haters and naysayers who would dismiss me because of my opinion, you should know that I am gay, and in a long-time committed relationship. I am NOT proud of being gay because I had no choice in that. Instead, I am proud of who I am as a person.. how I treat others and what I’ve accomplished. I was personally disgusted and offended at the “No H8” campaign which sought to marginalize and dismiss people with my opinion by saying that we were full of “hate”. As I mentioned previously, there are many good, decent, loving and intelligent people who believe that we should not redefine gender-specific terms simply because certain people or groups feel left out.

    It really is time that people think outside the box on this issue and take this conversation to the next level because repeating the same tiresome themes of “equal rights” is really a very simple, selfish, and one-dimensional approach.

Comments are closed.