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Looking West With Envy

Jun
17
2008

California, you are often maligned by those of us on the East Coast for your oddball politics. We laugh at the idea of a Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and cringe at the citizen petition process that seems to wreak such havoc with your public policy, but secretly we are envious.
We are watching with great interest to see how you will deal with the issue of same-sex marriage. If only the Massachusetts Legislature felt such a level of obligation to its residents. When we struggled with the issue of legalized gay marriage just a few years ago, the brave solons of Beacon Hill chose to slough off the responsibility for tough issues onto the state Supreme Court rather than go on record one way or the other.
In a democratic society, the people have the privilege of determining the principles by which society members ought to conduct themselves, and it is the duty of legislatures to codify those as laws. They are the framework under which we live and work, and we rely on them to live safe, happy lives.
There was no doubt where the people of Massachusetts stood on the idea of same-sex marriages. When Bay State citizens submitted petitions to amend the state’s constitution, the number of certified signatures (nearly 170,000, mine among them) set a record. One Boston Globe poll at the time also showed support for a constitutionally established traditional definition of marriage at nearly two-thirds. Clearly, the people of the Commonwealth were most comfortable with the status quo: marriage as a union of one man and one woman.
But poll numbers and certified petitions mean little to those with an emotional stake in the issue. As an evangelical Christian, I am well acquainted with the point of view that says society should hold government responsible for codifying morality. I believe that God is more concerned with how I follow His law than those of men. That is why, as a Libertarian, I cannot find the faith to put such responsibility in the hands of government. Instead, I believe each of us is accountable for conducting ourselves according to our own moral code.
The difficulty with establishing minimum standards of conduct is that there will be some who believe that the standard excludes their particular behavior. When this happens to a group with political clout, pressure is exerted on lawmakers to change the traditional standard. In California, this has meant amendments to the state Constitution – as in the case of same-sex marriage. The debate around such an amendment is a healthy – even necessary – process that forces a society to examine its collective moral ethic. This is precisely why such decisions should fall to society at large, and why legislatures should hew to the will of the people as they will in California.
Beyond the issue of same-sex marriage, there is a growing discontentment among Americans that so-called public servants have legislated themselves into an elite class and that regular folks have been marginalized. While we struggle to make ends meet amid higher gas prices, higher health care costs, and a recessionary economy, they busy themselves with creating costly new public programs, immune to the same pressures thanks to generous self-granted benefits, all the while hob-nobbing with moneyed special interest groups.
In California, as in Massachusetts, the courts have ruled that same-sex couples have a right to marry and, as in Massachusetts, those opposed to the idea are taking the issue to the people. That’s where the comparison ends as in the Golden State, unlike Massachusetts, the measure will actually be on the ballot in November.
No matter the outcome, once the will of the people has been tabulated and certified, those of us on the East Coast will have one more reason to envy our California brethren.
Editor’s note:This article appeared June 13, 2008, on page B – 11 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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