For those of you who are, like myself, far more concerned with the issues we’re facing in and around the immediate Rusk County vicinity, last week’s ruling from U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker probably didn’t even register with you.
That is, of course, unless you happened to view any of the various televised 24-hour cable news channels, where it is (depending on the network) either championed as the greatest civil rights boon since Plessy v. Ferguson or maligned as the worst miscarriage of justice since Roe v. Wade.
Judge Walker ruled that the State of California’s Proposition 8 be declared unconstitutional. The same proposition, which was affirmed by a clear majority of California voters, amended the state’s constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
I read an editorial from the New York Times that called the verdict “an instant landmark in American legal history,” and so it is, whether one supports it or not. The editorial went on to say that “legal opinions help lead public opinions,” and I have little doubt of that in this case.
Jurisprudence is based to a large degree on the establishment of legal precedents. Even if Judge Walker’s ruling is summarily reversed through appeal, a powerful precedent has been established by a federal court.
But despite the broad implications of the verdict itself, I wanted to delve a bit deeper beneath the ruling and study the judge’s reasoning. I consider myself a student of logic and rhetoric, surely I can learn from a man whose occupation requires a strong aptitude for both.
However, I must add that Judge Walker included upwards of 100 pages of argument in his verdict. One need not be a legal scholar to understand that a 100-page ruling is a whole lot to say on the matter.
In asserting that California’s Proposition 8 infringes upon the rights of the state’s homosexual citizens, Judge Walker says that it neglects to “advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. […] Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.”
Throughout the remainder of the ruling, Walker supports his argument by explaining what evidence he accepted and which he rejected. I’m not going to summarize the entire verdict point by point, but you can imagine which position’s evidence was accepted and which side’s was rejected.
Again, I’m no student of law. My training and skills abide more within the realm of the universals than those of the particulars.
So, I took note of the points set forth by Judge Walker in which he contended that “religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and lesbians,” and that “children do not need to be raised by a male parent and a female parent to be well-adjusted […] having both a male and a female parent does not increase the likelihood that a child will be well-adjusted,” as well beyond the judge’s own bounds.
If there is a legal appeal to be made, I imagine that it will center somewhere along those two assertions. Whether one applauds or condemns the ruling as set forth by Judge Walker, I do not believe that language such as this has ever been published by a federal judge. This is a watershed moment in this nation’s history, be it for good or for ill.
From the ancient Chinese ceremonies established by Confucius, to the Celtic “hand-fasting” of pagan Europe, through the holy matrimonial rituals of early Christendom to our own day the uniting of a man and woman has provided the basis and model for civilization.
So I ask, what is truly at stake? Is it the sanctity of the very institution itself?
Cast a cursory glance at the rising rates of no-fault divorce, out-of-wedlock births, and a culture of “serial monogamy” that amounts to little more than “serial polygamy” over the course of one’s lifetime.
I daresay that the damage wrought by the vast majority of “straights” has inflicted far more upon the sanctity on the institution than the relatively small minority of homosexual activists.
This ruling, regardless of one’s own view, does little more than illustrate the logical outworking of our own cultural trajectory.
Marriage is sacred and a foundational aspect of our civilization itself, this I believe.
But a shift has taken place, and it has likely happened right under our very feet.