Thursday, February 24, 2011

Effect of Obama's DOMA decision

President Clinton signed the DOMA into law, but has since changed his mind.
The Defense of Marriage Act was passed in 1996 to broad bipartisan support.  In the Senate, the bill passed by a margin of 85 – 14.  Both of Georgia’s senators, Republican Paul Coverdell and Democrat Sam Nunn voted for passage of the bill.  In the House, the vote was 342 – 67.  House Democrats voted for the bill by a margin of 118 – 65.  John Lewis was the only member of Georgia’s delegation to oppose the bill.  The bill was signed into law by President Clinton.

The Defense of Marriage Act is a short law, especially when compared to the gargantuan health care reform law.  It has only two parts.  The first part says that states are not required to recognize same-sex marriage performed in other states.  The second part says that, with respect to federal law, the word “spouse” only refers to a “person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife.”  In summary, this means that states would not be forced into accepting gay marriage because other states had legalized it or because a judge had misinterpreted federal law to read that “spouse” could mean a same-sex couple.  Note that the law does not single out gay couples.  It merely limits them to the same choices of a marriage partner that heterosexual couples have; namely, a partner of the opposite sex.

The current case stems from two rulings by Judge Joseph Tauro of the US District Court in Boston.  One suit, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, was filed by GLAD, while the other, Massachusetts v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, was filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley.  In both cases, Judge Tauro ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional.  Coakley subsequently lost the Massachusetts senatorial election in 2010 to Scott Brown. 

The next step was for the Supreme Court to review the cases.  Normally, the Justice Department would act in defense of federal law.  However, on February 23, 2010, Attorney General Holder issued a memo stating that “the President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA… is therefore unconstitutional.” 

The problem with this line of reasoning is that the president does not have the authority to decide whether a law in unconstitutional.  That is the role of the courts.  The job of the executive branch, headed by the president, is to enforce the laws passed by Congress and defend them if they are challenged in court.  That responsibility applies to all laws, not just the ones the president happens to agree with.

President Obama’s decision is a blatant attempt to divert attention from his mismanagement of the economy.  His stimulus programs have failed to spur economic growth at the cost of trillions of dollars in debt.  His health care reform is a disaster of increasing costs and regulation.  President Obama added more to the federal debt in 19 months than all other US presidents from Washington to Reagan.  Since he cannot stand on his record to an electorate that is increasingly angry about federal debt and spending, Obama must distract them.  A social issue like gay marriage is a divisive one that has the potential to reinvigorate the Democratic base.

If the Justice Department does not defend DOMA in court, the odds are that at least section 3 the law will be struck down.  Section 3 holds that federal law defines marriage as between a man and a woman.  If this section is ruled unconstitutional, the immediate result will be more lawsuits.  Gay couples married in gay marriage states will file suit for a myriad of things, from the right to file joint tax returns to obtaining federal benefits for same-sex spouses.  If the entire law is struck down, traditional marriage states can be required to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Once gay marriage is law on the federal level, the battle would move back to the states.  In all, twenty-seven states have some sort of constitutional amendment defining marriage.   Several other states have laws defining marriage that are not part of the state constitution bringing the total of defense of marriage states to thirty-nine.  Only seven states have laws permitting same-sex marriage.  In most cases, this has been by judicial decree rather than by popular or legislative vote.  Georgia’s defense of marriage amendment was passed in 2004 by a margin of 76 – 24%.  This indicates that the will of the people from all across the country is that traditional marriage be maintained.

Georgia’s marriage amendment has already been challenged.  It was overturned by a lower court in 2006, but eventually upheld by the Georgia Supreme Court.  Even though the law is on secure footing with respect to state laws and courts, a repeal of the federal DOMA could open the way for challenges in federal court.  It could become more difficult to defend Georgia’s law if full marital rights and benefits are conveyed by federal law.

Already, a federal court has overturned California’s defense of marriage amendment.  If California’s law is ultimately overturned by the Supreme Court, it could have the effect of striking down all state marriage amendments as well.  Governor Schwarzenegger’s justice department declined to defend California’s law in court as well, but proponents of the law may be allowed to defend it.

Currently, it seems that the tide is moving in favor of the eventual legalization of gay marriage regardless of the will of the majority of the people.  Proving that elections have far reaching consequences, politicians who personally favor gay marriage are declining to fulfill their responsibility in defending the law.  This makes it likely that Georgia will eventually be forced to recognize gay marriage under the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution or through a federal court ruling that strikes down all state defense of marriage amendments. 
The one chance to prevent this outcome is for Georgians to vote for candidates who will support a defense of marriage amendment to the US Constitution.  President Obama, Attorney General Holder and the Supreme Court might also listen if citizens contact them to voice opposition to gay marriage.  Ultimately it will take more than Georgians to defeat the assault on marriage since the attack originates from outside of our state.  

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Democracy protests spread through the Middle East

Protesting Libya at the White House (Ted)
Over the past few months, democracy protests have broken out across the Muslim world.  In December 2010, protests broke out in Tunisia following the police abuse and subsequent suicide by immolation of a street peddler.  Less than a month later, Ben Ali, Tunisia’s dictator fled to Saudi Arabia. 

From Tunisia, the democratic protests spread to Egypt.  Protesters crammed the streets of Egypt’s major cities demanding the resignation of Hosni Mubarak.  As the Egyptian army looked on, Mubarak announced that he would not seek re-election this September and promised reforms.  On February 11, President Mubarak finally stepped down and handed over control of the country to the military.

The protests do not stop there.  Democracy advocates in Yemen are demanding reform.  In Jordan, the king dismissed the cabinet and appointed a new prime minister in an attempt to mollify protests against his government.  There is still opposition to the Iranian government in spite of the regime’s crackdown on protests there in 2009.  Protests against entrenched Muslim dictatorships have even reached Syria, where students rallied against security forces after police beat a young man in the capitol.

Will Gaddafi be the next Muslim dictator to fall?
Most recently Georgians have watched in horror as protests against the governments of Bahrain and Libya have turned violent.  The two countries are very different.  Bahrain is a wealthy ally of the United States, while Libya is a poor country ruled by Moammar Gaddafi, a longtime sponsor of terrorists.  The governments of both countries have apparently been unnerved by the events in Tunisia and Egypt and have decided that heavy-handed crackdowns on the protesters are the only way to preserve their power.

The Muslim world, characterized by authoritarian governments and a populace that ranges between a few extremely wealthy and the majority who are extremely poor, has long been ripe for revolution.  It is not surprising that the people of these countries would look at the prosperity of the rest of the world (even in a recession) enviously.  The US unemployment rate is over 9%, but the unemployment rate in these Arab countries is often much higher.  The peddler who started Tunisia’s revolution was a college graduate and father who could find no other job than selling food on the street.  Unemployment and low wages couple with rising food prices put average Arab families in a precarious position.

When pro-democracy Muslims saw the success of democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, it undoubtedly inspired them to seek change in their own countries.  When the people had their first success in Tunisia dominos started to fall in other Muslim dictatorships.  The success in Egypt further emboldened democracy protests around the Middle East.  The domino theory is in action as one dictator after another is threatened and falls to a popular uprising.

Many Georgians are understandably concerned where the Middle Eastern upheaval will lead.  Many Georgians have already been actively involved in two wars in the Middle East.  There is justifiable concern that radical groups like the Muslim Brotherhood will hijack these democratic revolutions in favor of Islamic theocracies. 

It would be a mistake for the United States to continue backing unpopular dictators out of fear of a takeover by radicals or higher oil prices.  The people of the Middle East are willing to risk their lives to fight for what America possesses and has long believed is the best choice for the world:  freedom and democracy.  It would be hypocritical and tragic of the United States not to aid proponents of democracy (as we failed to do in Iran in 2009).

The Muslim revolutions echo the revolts against communism in 1989. (Kpalion)
What the US can and should do is to aid democratic movements around the world.  As dictators topple, US democracy advisors should be dispatched to help newly free people learn to preserve their freedom.  This tactic was used in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union successfully.  Democracy and capitalism have taken root in several countries there, many of which already have lower taxes than the US!  By giving support and aid to democracy groups, we would also counter the support that Iran, al Qaeda and others will undoubtedly be giving to radical groups.

Now is not the time for the US to abdicate our responsibility for spreading democracy and freedom around the world.  The revolutionary wave sweeping the Middle East is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  The people want freedom and they are willing to die for it.  If the opportunity is missed, or seized by Islamic radicals, it may mean that more Georgians will one day have to fight wars in Middle Eastern deserts.

The question is in which Middle Eastern country democracy will strike next and whether the US will be ready.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Chick-fil-a accused of anti-gay bias

J. Reed

Chick-fil-a probably did not expect that a donation of food to a marriage seminar would land the company in hot water with gay activists.  What could be offensive about the Georgia-based restaurant chain’s delicious chicken sandwiches?  Nevertheless, when a Silver Spring Township, Pennsylvania Chick-fil-a restaurant agreed to donate sandwiches and brownies for one hundred people attending a seminar titled “The Art of Marriage, Getting to the Heart of God’s Design” it caused quite a stir. 

The seminar is billed as an “event where couples have the opportunity to look at their relationship in a whole new way.”  It is a video series featuring “instruction from respected pastors and Bible teachers together with compelling stories, humorous vignettes, man-on-the street interviews and more.”  The seminars purpose is to strengthen existing marriages.

The seminar was not a political meeting, but a two-day event aimed at strengthening marriages.  Cathy does say, “While my family and I believe in the Biblical definition of marriage, we love and respect anyone who disagrees.”  Chick-fil-a does not have a political agenda according to Cathy.  Cathy says, “We're not anti-anybody.  Our mission is to create raving fans.”

Apparently, as gay rights activists see it, Chick-fil-a’s sin was not in making a donation to the marriage seminar, but in associating with the seminar’s sponsor, Pennsylvania Family Institute.  The Pennsylvania Family Institute is affiliated with Focus on the Family.  Both groups have worked to oppose the push to legalize homosexual marriage.  Currently Pennsylvania law defines marriage as “between a man and a woman.”  There have been attempts both to place a definition of marriage into the state’s constitution as well as to extend marriage to same-sex couples.  It seems that promoting marriage is, in their view, homophobic unless same-sex marriage is affirmed as well.

On one flyer for the seminar, Chick-fil-a was listed as a cosponsor of the event.  PFI President Michael Geer and Chick-fil-a President Dan Cathy both say that Chick-fil-a’s role was limited to a donation of food, and that claims that Chick-fil-a sponsored the event are in error.

Chick-fil-a is a company that is run on Christian principles, but Dan Cathy says it “is not a Christian company.”  The company is known for the fact that all of its restaurants are closed on Sunday.  It is also well known for donations and assistance to both local and national charities.  Our local Chick-fil-a in Villa Rica, Georgia often aids local churches, schools, and even hosts regular blood drives. 

Gay activists are encouraging their supporters to avoid patronizing the Atlanta-based company.  Chick-fil-a, which has stores in 39 states, is concentrated in the south, but has a number of restaurants in blue states as well.  Even though public opinion generally runs against gay marriage, many states are closely divided and a boycott could cost Chick-fil-a a lot of business.  For example, in Maryland where the state senate is preparing to vote on a gay marriage bill, a recent poll shows that 54% of the public supports keeping marriage between one man and one woman.  In contrast, Georgia’s marriage amendment passed with 76% in favor in 2004.

Marriage is by definition a contract between a man and a woman.  Boycotts and referendums will never be able to change that immutable fact of life.  It isn’t a question of fairness or equality; it is a basic recognition of the fact that men and women are different and that they each have different but important roles to play in society and the family.  Two fathers or two mothers are not and never will be equal to one father and one mother.  That is not meant to be hurtful or hateful.  It is simply a statement of reality.

The Chick-fil-a controversy seems to be part of a wider pattern of attempts to silence opponents of gay marriage, particularly if those people happen to be religious.  Last year, Apple withdrew an iTunes app created by the Manhattan Declaration, a document that explains Christian positions on marriage, religious liberty, and the sanctity of life, on the grounds that it was offensive.  In Georgia, a counseling student was forced into re-education because she believed that homosexuality was immoral.  After California voted to define marriage as between a man and a woman in 2008, backers of the amendment faced a campaign of intimidation by gay rights activists.

Most Americans will likely resist the calls to boycott Chick-fil-a, a company known for its great food and service.  Chick-fil-a is a true asset to the community, a corporation that believes in giving back.  Hopefully, gay rights activists will realize that opposition to same-sex marriage is not equivalent to hate and that they should have tolerance for other viewpoints, just as they expect others to have tolerance for their lifestyle.  Sadly, all too often tolerance to leftists means that others must not only accept their views, but affirm them as well.  If they come to realize that tolerance is a two way street, perhaps we can all sit back and enjoy a Chick-fil-a and waffle fries together.