Checks and Balances

It amazes me at times, how good and decent people that truly love our country, don’t seem to understand how it works. Or if they understand, don’t agree with the process when they don’t agree with the results; the very process that protects our freedoms.

California’s Prop 8, which banned same-sex marriage, was recently overturned by a federal judge as being unconstitutional. Some people are happy, and some are not. That’s pretty normal for any issue that has two sides and those that disagree certainly are entitled to their opinions, but I keep reading remarks such as, ‘some judge is overruling the will of the people! We voted and it passed!’ As if some judge just went rogue and started wielding his power like some third-world despot.

Well, no he didn’t. States are free to make new laws, but only if they don’t conflict with the US Constitution, so if a law is challenged in court, a judge rules on the constitutionality, and in this case Prop 8 was found to be in conflict with the fourteenth amendment, which renders it invalid. Had he ruled the other way, I’m sure the Prop 8 supporters would be cheering, “The system works!” Well, the system does work, just not always the way you’d like.

The fourteenth amendment reads in part, “… No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

You can disagree with the judge’s findings, but the process is perfectly legal. The proponents of Prop 8 are perfectly free to further avail themselves of the process by appealing the judge’s decision. That’s also legal. If on appeal, the ruling is reversed, then a whole different group will be unhappy, but the process is still legal and constitutional and part of our system of government.

It bothers me that recently, when people disagree with decisions and rulings they seem ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater and think the system is corrupt and evil. This very same system of government gave us freedom of speech, ended segregation, gave women the right to vote, gave women the right to their reproductive choices, created income tax, created social security, gave suspects their Miranda rights, will soon end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and will most probably give same-sex couples the right to marry, and so on. Some of you aren’t happy with all the decisions above, but each one was reached legally and within the governmental system.

This 14th amendment protection is for everyone, but is especially important for those in the minority.  Rights are not subject to votes, that’s why they are called rights. Would things run smoother if it was just majority rule? Perhaps, but we’d live in a country where women can’t vote, blacks would be second-class citizens, and gays would live in fear of their lives if their true orientation were known. We already have countries in the world like that in the middle east; I prefer it here.

And for those of you unhappy with the Constitution, it itself provides a method for change; the amendment process. It is a deliberately long and difficult process because the founding fathers knew that any change worth having will persevere whereas the ones fashionable for a time will fall away. So if you want the majority to rule in this case, or any case, you are free to work to change the constitution.

Do it carefully because the freedoms you curtail just may be your own.

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