Morals should trump politicking with Prop 8

For those of you who want to jump from your few months of summer fun back into lives of political activism, here’s an update on the amendment to the California constitution known as Proposition 8.

Alice Li | Daily Trojan

The validity of same-sex marriage is a very emotionally and politically charged topic, so let me be perfectly clear: I’m not debating its validity. My argument is that California Attorney General Jerry Brown, and to some degree Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, failed to fulfill the duties of their respective offices by declining to defend against the recent challenge to the California constitution. Brown allowed his personal feelings about Prop 8 to impede his responsibility to the constitution.

Prop 8 was passed in November 2008 by a 52.24 percent majority and amended the California constitution to state, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

On May 26, 2009, the California Supreme Court, in the case of Strauss et al. v Horton, rejected the plaintiffs’ request to invalidate the amendment to the California constitution effected by Prop 8. The court instead affirmed “that Proposition 8 constitutes a permissible constitutional amendment.”

More recently, a new lawsuit was filed in U.S. Federal Court in San Francisco by two same-sex couples suing for the right to marry their respective partners. The plaintiffs named Schwarzenegger and Brown, along with other state officials, as defendants. On Aug. 8 Judge Vaughn Walker released his decision that Prop 8 “is unconstitutional under both the due process and equal protection clauses [of the U.S. Constitution].”

Now here’s the extraordinary part: Not one of the named defendants appeared in court. Defendant-intervenors (interested parties who wish to proffer a defense on behalf of the defendants) from the private sector instead shouldered the responsibility of defending the state constitution.

The oath of office taken by every elected official in California, including the governor and the attorney general, makes them swear to “support and defend  . . .  the constitution of the state of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and to “bear true faith and allegiance to the constitution of the United States and the constitution of the state of California.” Where was the attorney general for the state of California to defend the constitution of the state of California?

Though Prop 8 passed by only a slim margin, it was indeed passed, and consequently it amended and became an unmistakable part of the constitution.

Additionally, as public servants in charge of maintaining and looking out for the best interests of their constituents, the governor and the attorney general should have gone to bat for the desires of the majority, regardless of their personal beliefs.

“Barring a law that is unconstitutional on its face, the proper role of an attorney general is to enforce and defend the will of the people as manifested through the initiative or legislative process,” Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley said in an official statement. “The will of the people should be respected and not overturned easily or lightly.”

If Brown thought the law was unconstitutional, he should have attempted to address it earlier.

Until someone with proper authority (such as the U.S. Federal Judiciary) tells him otherwise, it is not up to the  California attorney general’s discretion to ignore his obligation to mount a vigorous defense of the California constitution. Deciding beforehand, as Jerry Brown did, that the proposition was unconstitutional was a neglect of the fundamental duty of his office.

After Walker’s ruling was handed down, Brown said, “In striking down Proposition 8, Judge Walker came to the same conclusion I did when I declined to defend it.” Brown, however, is not a federal judge but an attorney elected and employed for the defense of the state and its constitution.

Even while holding political office and bound to the same oath that he will affirm if he is elected governor in November, Jerry Brown shirks his official responsibility when it doesn’t align with his personal interests. Which laws will he decline to enforce as governor? Obviously the public will grant Jerry and his cohorts latitude, realizing that they have images to maintain and agendas to propagate. But California is in dire need of leaders who, unlike Brown, can put aside personal interests in favor of the greater good in order to extricate the State from its present challenges.

The constitution should be something that our leaders will invariably defend, regardless of how  it may impact their political futures.

Reid Roman is a sophomore majoring in industrial and systems engineering.

8 replies
  1. John
    John says:

    This is a very good article. I applaud Reid Roman. He was correct on the stated issue, regardless of his stance on gay marriage itself.

  2. Diane
    Diane says:

    The commenters here are mostly letting their personal biases completely blind them to the fact that the author stated, and that “Ryan” nicely elucidated, that Jerry Brown is REQUIRED to do something that he chose not to do. That is not right, and it matters not whether you’re gay straight or utterly genderless. The greater good is to follow the Constitution, which when legally followed provides a remedy for the “tyranny of the majority.”

    However, the fact that the commenters here are incapable of acknowledging that more than half the voters hold a different opinion of “good” or “moral” than they do is not promising for the civility of the discussion.

    • Greater Good?
      Greater Good? says:

      If California voters passed a Constitutional amendment, in the same way that they did Prop 8, saying that nobody but white males could vote any more, would you expect the Attorney General of California to defend that law? I would not. Why? Because even though it would be part of the California Constitution, it violates federal law, and the state AG has just as much responsibility to uphold federal laws as he or she does to uphold state laws. In this case, Brown decided to uphold federal law over state law (as he should, thank you Supremacy Clause) and, guess what, a federal judge agreed with Brown.

      I am in no way letting my personal bias blind me to anything. Here is, word-for-word, the oath of office that all California officials must take:

      “”I, ______, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter.”

      Notice the parts about upholding the US Constitution are put ahead of upholding the California Constitution in both instances that the two are mentioned. Jerry Brown and Schwarzenegger did their jobs admirably in this situation.

  3. Jason
    Jason says:

    You clearly have a limited understanding of how our government works. Look up “tyranny of the majority” and understand how the Judicial branch was constructed to fight it. Jerry Brown owes nothing to that 52% majority of Californians.

    You attempt to avoid taking a position on gay marriage, but it’s fairly obvious from your “greater good” statement how you feel.

    Journalism fail.

  4. Lester Aponte
    Lester Aponte says:

    The Governor and the Attorney General took an oath not only to defend the California constitution but also the Constitution of the United States. Prop 8 violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the federal constitution and these official were right to uphold their oath by stating as much.

  5. Greater Good?
    Greater Good? says:

    My point was not about Prop 8 specifically, it’s about what Prop 8 represents. The author said that a politician must “put aside personal interests in favor of the greater good” and I was merely asking how this case could possibly apply to that maxim. There is no “greater good” being served by Prop 8 or, as I said in my last post, by any law based purely on fear and hate. Jerry Brown would not be doing his job if he gladly defended such laws, so by refusing to defend Prop 8, he was actually doing his job to the best of his ability. Show me an Attorney General who defends a law that they believe to be unconstitutional and I will show you a bad AG. I refuse to accept that it’s “disgusting” for an AG to not defend a law that they believe to be unconstitutional.

    Now, if this article had been about the Democrats and Republicans refusing to come together in order to pass a budget, or about the gerrymandering of the state, or about ANY other subject where politicians are truly putting their personal and partisan interests ahead of the “greater good” of the state, I would have completely agreed, but this was a poor subject to write about in order to discuss a politician’s duty to fight for the “greater good.”

  6. Ryan
    Ryan says:

    As the author mentioned, the purpose of the article is not to defend Prop 8. Nor does the author pick a side. For all we know, the author may be in line to marry a same-sex partner and is thrilled at the ruling. The fact of the matter is that the attorney general is supposed to protect the California Constitution regardless of his or her personal beliefs. Brown is not a judge therefore has no business interpreting California law. When Prop 8 passed just like every other Prop that passes, it became California law. It is Brown’s duty to defend Prop 8 just like it is his duty to defend every other California law. He failed to do so. There is no gray area here. Jerry Brown failed to do his job. Remove all mentions of Prop 8 and replace it with Prop X. Brown basically stated that he will only defend laws that he personally believes in. That’s disgusting.

  7. Greater Good?
    Greater Good? says:

    “But California is in dire need of leaders who, unlike Brown, can put aside personal interests in favor of the greater good in order to extricate the State from its present challenges.”

    How exactly is it for the “greater good” to deny people their Constitutional right to equal protection under the law? If this law was banning interracial marriage rather than gay marriage, I highly doubt that you would be writing this same article–in fact, I would hope that you would praise the public official that would stand against such bigotry. I would rather have a man like Brown, who is willing to stand up for the most basic protections that the US Constitution provides each citizen, than a person who would happily enforce laws based on nothing other than fear and hate.

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