Friday, May 19, 2006

On gays settlin' down: Part One of Two

Okay, so Georgia's gay marriage ban was voided Tuesday when a Superior Court judge found it in violation of the "single-subject" rule. Amendments to the state constitution can only address one subject at a time, and Judge Constance Russell found that the amendment in question tries to address both gay marriage and civil union.

We'll set aside for the moment that experts were predicting this very controversy when the amendment was propsed back in 2004. Now, the people are up in arms that Judge Russell should overturn legislation that passed so overwhelmingly. This "activist judge" is denying the will of the people, they're saying. The voters of Georgia have declared that they don't want gays settlin' down, and so it's Judge Russell's job to keep gays from settlin' down.

Even, apparently, if it's unconstitutional.

There seems to be a growing sense of rule by fiat in the country. The Will of the People is paramount, and nothing, not rule of law, not longstanding constitutional amendment, can keep it from being honored. We want national security, and if that can only happen in violation of the Fourth Amendment, so be it. We want an amendment against gays settlin' down, and whether or not that amendment has been passed in accordance with the state constitution, we're going to get one.

It's that accordance with the Constitution thing that's the rub. Both the state and federal constitution have been passed to, more than anything else, guarantee the rights of the people and, in some cases, protect them from the government's everpresent potential for tyranny. The rules laid out by the Constitution(s) force the government to follow certain procedures before moving in on the rights of the people, whether by physically placing a tap on a phone or searching a house or by passing laws limiting the rights of the populus.

It's easy to dismiss those rules when they're affecting someone else. When your phone isn't being tapped ("I have nothing to hide!") and your relationship is unthreatened ("Sanctity of marriage!"), it's easy to brush aside the legalities.

But when your own rights are in danger, it's a lot easier to get excited. Take, for instance, the ongoing debate over the Second Amendment. At any given point, both state and federal legislation is in the works that might threaten a person's unlimited right to bear arms. Some of it is well-conceived; some of it isn't. Some of it is constitutional; some of it isn't. But lobbyists on both sides of the issue fight passionately in support of their position.

No matter the subject, a law's only defense is it constitutionality. Rules must be followed. I's must be dotted and T's must be crossed. A "good" law (and in most cases, "good" is merely a point of view) is only as strong as its writing. A good law, like a good house, has to be built on a strong foundation, and if it isn't, it's just as unlikely to afford protection.

Whether or not the gay marriage amendment is a good one, it's worthless if it doesn't abide by the rules laid out in the state constitution. Whether or not Judge Russell is an activist, she's a judge, with an extensive education and experience in the law, and she's doing you a favor. If the people of Georgia want to keep gay marriage settlin' down, they'll vote for it now the way they voted for is in 2004. But what they vote on has to be constitutional.

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