Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The days after DOMA

With the unrest in the Middle East and the constant debate over government spending dominating the political and news landscapes, one important story flew under the radar last week -- at least to some extent. President Barack Obama is refusing to defend DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996.

Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder will no longer force the Justice Department to defend the law in court, opening the door for the future legalization of gay marriage and admitting that refusing that right in the first place is a violation of civil rights.

In a word: finally. I've criticize Obama pretty harshly on many of his social policies and his failure to stand up for the electorate. Lately, however, it seems that principle trumps political expedience, which it typically should.

Still, it's a bit odd for the executive branch to declare a law unconstitutional, as that is typically the role of the Supreme Court. Though uncommon, this move is not without precedent. But as one would expect, there are oppositional voices from conservatives.

"Some conservatives questioned Mr. Obama’s timing and accused him of trying to change the subject from spending cuts to social causes," said Charlie Savage and Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times.

I think this criticism is accurate, but neither party really has grounds to accuse the other of altering national discourse for political gain. It happens constantly. In 2004, the Republicans rode the threat of terrorism and national moral erosion into the White House. Obama did the same in 2008 by shifting the focus to domestic issues. Then there's the 2010 election, when concerns over deficit spending put Republicans back in control of the House. So how is this different? It's not. Moving on.

This is my personal favorite among the dissenters: "This is the real politicization of the Justice Department — when the personal views of the president override the government’s duty to defend the law of the land." This statement comes from Republican Texas Rep. Lamar Smith.

Personal views always inform political and legal decision. Why do you think the approval of Supreme Court justices takes so damn long? We vet their personal views. The law is really just a social contract that reflects our collective personal views concerning what we deem acceptable and unacceptable at the time of its writing. As our views change, so does the law, though much more slowly.

My big question in all this goes to the Republicans, supposed champions of personal freedom and limited government: Why do you care about how two consenting adults choose to live their lives and why should the government involve itself in such decisions? To me, their stance it the epitome of hypocrisy. Score one for freedom!

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