Saturday, July 10, 2010

Will "States' Rights" Result in Two Americas?

States' Rights advocates (SRAs) are applauding a recent ruling that a state law allowing same-sex marriage in Massachusetts should take precedence over a federal definition of marriage. Maybe I should say, SOME SRAs are pleased - many SRAs are politically and culturally conservative and do not support same sex marriage in any state.

Via The New York Times:

The decision, by Judge Joseph L. Tauro of United States District Court in Boston, supports and echoes a central tenet of the Tea Party, 9/12 and Tenth Amendment movements, all of which argue that the authority of the states should trump Washington in most matters not explicitly assigned by the Constitution to the federal government.

Congress, the judge said, had infringed on a question that was the province of local voters and legislators.

But in using the argument to support gay marriage in Massachusetts, where the case arose, the judge created an awkward new debating point within the less-government movement about where social goals and government policy intersect, or perhaps collide.

Some people involved in the campaigns to limit Washington’s reach cheered what they said was a states’ rights victory.

“The Constitution isn’t about political ideology,” said Michael Boldin, the founder of the Tenth Amendment Center, a group based in Los Angeles. “It’s about liberty, and limiting the government to certain divisive issues — I applaud what I consider a very rare ruling from the judiciary.”

Others, like Steve V. Moon, a software programmer and founder of, a group founded in Utah in 2008, said the judge’s decision was both right and wrong.

“It’s unconstitutional for the federal government to pass laws superseding state authority — and the judge did affirm states’ rights in this area,” he said. “But I personally believe in the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman and support any state passing laws affirming the sanctity of marriage.”

Mr. Moon said he feared that what might look like a states’ rights victory could backfire. If judges in other states, drawing on Judge Tauro’s reasoning, start throwing out marriage definition laws that were passed by residents or legislatures, “that could be detrimental to states’ rights.”

However, it is this brief passage at the end of the article that got my attention and made think that this may be the beginning of a "two Americas" problem in terms of social rights - we have two Americas in terms of wealth and power.

Mr. Boldin, at the Tenth Amendment center, said the ruling, and how politicians in Washington and around the country react to it, would illuminate whether people were working to limit federal authority on Constitutional principle in all cases, or only for certain causes or partisan agendas.

The ruling, “leaves the proper situation of each state being able to decide its own fate,” Mr. Boldin wrote in a blog on the group’s Web site.

“If the courts were trustworthy, they’d do the same for healthcare, education and all kinds of other powers that the federal government has usurped,” he wrote. “So would politicians — who seem to champion the 10th only when it’s in their partisan best interest.”

So let's assume that the 10th Amendment becomes more widely employed and enforced. More and more states will pass laws the reflect the majority population's cultural values. Take Arizona for an example - English only education, no same-sex marriage/contracts/benefits, immigration laws that target ALL racial minorities, no-permit required for concealed handguns, guns permitted in bars and churches, and on and on.

Some of these laws violate federal laws. In fact the US Government is suing AZ over the immigration law - with Attorney General Eric Holder saying the law in unconstitutional, with immigration being a federal jurisdiction while other things, such as marriage and gun laws and other areas that states feel falls within the 10th Amendment.

So all of the Red States can pass cultural values laws against gay marriage/rights, supporting Biblical values in education, tougher anti-abortion laws, and other religiously based values laws. At the same time, Blue States can pass equal rights laws for all citizens, keep religion out of publicly funded education, limit or eliminate gun possession, allow a woman to choose what we body does or does not do, and other more humanist cultural values.

Over time, as people are able to move from one place to another, those of us holding more liberal, humanist values will try our best to move to states reflecting our values; and those with more conservative religious values will move to those states supporting their worldviews. We have a Blue America and a Red America, with little common ground to unite us - this is the nearly inevitable outcome of SRAs and the culture wars.

Maybe in a couple of hundred years, maps will reflect the humorous one at the top of this post.

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