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THOMAS: Marriage needs defense from redefinition

A federal judge in Boston has ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act passed by Congress — 427 members voted in favor — and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996 cannot take precedence over a Massachusetts law allowing same-sex marriage. The ruling again raises serious questions about the origin and purpose of law. But before we get to that larger question, the ‘‘logic’’ of Judge Joseph L. Tauro’s ruling should first be examined.

Judge Tauro’s decision flies in the face of what the federal government has claimed and is claiming in at least two other significant cases. In 1973, the Supreme Court struck down all state laws restricting a woman’s right to have an abortion. In its lawsuit against Arizona’s new immigration law, the Department of Justice claims federal law, which the feds are not enforcing, trumps state law.

So let’s see: State laws are fine when they promote the interests of the ruling liberal and cultural elites, but they are to be ignored, or overturned, when they do not promote the objectives of the ruling liberal and cultural elites. Is that it? How can the federal government have it both ways?

A New York Times editorial says of DOMA, ‘‘There is no rational basis for discriminating against same-sex couples.’’ Really? Has the newspaper forgotten the federal government’s ‘‘discrimination’’ against Utah when it forbade the territory from entering the Union until it outlawed polygamy? In 1878, the Supreme Court declared in Reynolds v. United States that polygamy was not protected by the Constitution. If the federal government could reject polygamy then as a means of promoting the general welfare, why can’t it block attempts to redefine marriage now? If marriage is redefined by courts, what is to stop anyone from declaring a ‘‘right’’ to any relationship they wish to enter and demanding ‘‘equal protection’’ under the Constitution?

Now to the larger question of law, which is also being re-defined. During her confirmation hearings, Elena Kagan said she loved the law. Too bad no one asked her which law she loves and what is law’s purpose? Law is meant to conform humans to a standard that preserves the cultural and moral order. The purpose of government is to ‘‘secure’’ unalienable pre-existing rights about which Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence — a document Kagan dismissed as irrelevant to the Constitution, though it is the Constitution’s moral and philosophical foundation. Government is not supposed to create new rights like national health care or same-sex marriage.

The Times editorial dismisses the overwhelming approval for DOMA as a ‘‘wedge issue’’ during an election year. In fact, it reflected the principled position not only of a vast majority of members of Congress, but also the position of the public, which has almost universally rejected attempts to legalize same-sex marriage. In 2004, 11 states had ballot measures preserving marriage as between opposite sex couples. All passed. In 2008, three states had gay marriage ballot initiatives. Two passed. In California, a measure to overturn the State Supreme Court’s earlier 4-3 decision upholding the constitutionality of a legislative ban on same-sex marriage was approved by 400,000 votes, or 52 percent of those voting.

Marriage re-definers demand acceptance for their position that morality, as well as right and wrong, are to be determined by polls. If polls show the public disapproving of behavior the elites favor, the elites ignore majority opinion and seek to shove it down our throats anyway, because, you see, only they can be right. The rest of us have the equivalent standing of 1950s segregationists. Anyone arguing for tradition is branded a bigot, a label that is supposed to end all discussion, while the labeled one is exhausted trying to prove a negative.

Judge Tauro’s ruling will likely be overturned on appeal, but that won’t stop the marriage re-definers. In a morally exhausted society, they just might succeed. Polygamists were 130 years before their time.

E-mail nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas at calthomas@tribune.com.