August 5, 2012

Limited government and states’ rights are both central to the Republican Party’s platform, but the manner in which these two concepts interact can infringe on individual liberties and deny equality. For example, many Republicans and Tea Partiers have called for the repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and Mitt Romney has repeatedly said that the health care legislation he passed as Governor of Massachusetts, which is very similar to “Obamacare,” was good for Massachusetts but not for the entire country. Essentially, the Republican argument is that national health care reform is somehow infringing on states’ rights and that “Obamacare” is an intrusive government “takeover” of health care. Yet, how could people with pre-existing conditions be guaranteed health care insurance without a national law?

Typically, limited government is equated with freedom, but in numerous instances limited government would actually result in the loss of legal protections. “Big government” can protect individual liberties and enable each person’s “pursuit of happiness” in ways that limited government cannot. If we as a society believe that people with pre-existing conditions should be able to receive affordable health care insurance, then the law guaranteeing such insurance should apply to all fifty states. Again, limited government would say that health insurance providers should be allowed to deny coverage, that the “market” should be allowed to work without government intrusion, that corporations have “rights” too, but such a situation does not protect “life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness” for real people. In such a situation government is needed to protect liberty and guarantee equality.

Another issue that involves a discussion of limited government, states’ rights, freedom, and equality is same-sex marriage. Recently, there has been news that the Democratic Party may include, for the first time, language supporting same-sex marriage in its official party platform at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. If so, I imagine that many social conservatives will interpret this as an assault on their worldview and will become more enthusiastic supporters of Mitt Romney. In my opinion, cultural issues should be less important than economic concerns in the upcoming election, and hopefully the presidential debates will provide a clear choice on economic policies, but a discussion of same-sex marriage may be worthwhile for those of you who are undecided on the legal issue of same-sex marriage despite possible personal objections to it on religious grounds.

Many Republicans and Tea Partiers, particularly on the issue of gun control, insist that government should not intrude on people’s personal lives and activities. Now, you may be thinking that the 2nd Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms and that the Constitution in no way guarantees the right to get married. Admittedly, gun rights activists have more explicit language to point to in the Constitution, but if same-sex marriage cannot be upheld interpreting the current law of the land, then why did conservatives during the Bush years try so hard to pass a constitutional amendment, a national law, specifically forbidding it?  Furthermore, what’s more harmful to society: marriages or massacres?

Currently, same-sex marriage is legal in some states and outlawed in other states. Does this make sense? Should same-sex marriage be a states’ rights issue? Should slavery have been a states’ rights issue? Obviously, the Confederacy thought that slavery should be a state’s right and South Carolina, the state with the largest percentage of slaves, seceded from the Union before Lincoln even took office. Should racial discrimination be a states’ rights issue? Obviously, the South thought that separate facilities for whites and blacks should be a state’s right, but the result was that blacks in the South did not have the same individual liberties as blacks in other parts of the country (even though racial discrimination existed all over America) and that blacks did not have legal equality with whites. Ultimately, the federal government did what state governments could not do: passed national legislation outlawing racial discrimination.

Many people scoff at comparisons between the situation of blacks before the Civil Rights Movement and the LGBT community today. People interpret the past through the moral sensibilities of the present. They say: “of course slavery was wrong, and of course racial discrimination was wrong.” They act as if it were inevitable that Lincoln would issue the Emancipation Proclamation, or that Johnson would sign the Civil Rights Act. Today, these changes seem like common sense. People cannot even imagine society being like it used to be. People imagine that they would not have upheld the morality of the past that was eventually declared deeply immoral. Somehow, all of the societal and cultural changes of the past seem like expected progress, but the changes of the present seem radical, strange, and immoral. Somehow, all of history’s progress is celebrated, but the present’s progress is denounced. If we as a society believe that people should have the right and the freedom to marry the person they love, then the law guaranteeing that right should apply to all fifty states.

Presently, many social conservatives argue that it is both common sense and morally upright to oppose same-sex marriage and other forms of legal and social equality for the LGBT community. Four generations ago, enough people in Texas thought it was common sense and morally upright to secede from the Union in defense of slavery, or “states’ rights,” and to declare: “in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations” (Declaration of Causes, 1861). Our students pledge their allegiance to the Texas flag everyday after pledging their allegiance to the U.S. flag. I would argue that their allegiance should be directed towards the flag that attempts to guarantee “liberty and justice for all.”



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