Jonah Goldberg

The glass-is-half-full news has been that liberals, who've despised federalism with increasing intensity since the New Deal, suddenly learned a newfound respect for the concept on the issue of gay marriage.

Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, for example, touts the genius of federalism whenever he can, including most recently on Fox News Sunday when he indicated once again that he thinks having same-sex marriage legal in some states but illegal in others is an acceptable compromise.

The glass-is-half-empty news is that conservatives are suddenly less enamored with federalism. For a host of reasons - some highly technical others flatly moral - many conservatives want to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage in all 50 states.

I've been opposed to that for two reasons. The first is that I'm not a fair-weather friend of federalism. Real diversity, as the founders envisioned it, requires accepting that some communities will do things you don't approve of. The second reason is technical: I favor civil unions and I can't get a straight answer - pardon the pun - on whether any or all of the proposed amendments would allow them.

But the events of San Francisco have made things worse. First, Mayor Newsom is giving marriage licenses not only to San Franciscans - which, again, is illegal - but out-of-state couples as well. So much for each community minding its own business.

More significant is the mixture of celebration and quiescence from gay marriage proponents. My friend Andrew Sullivan is nigh-upon giddy about this mass flouting of California's democratically decided laws. The Human Rights Campaign officially "lauds" Newsom's stunt. And according to the San Francisco Chronicle, the only criticism Barney Frank could manage was to tell the mayor his timing was bad since this is an election year. In other words, breaking the law next year would have been fine.

The trouble with all of this is that a federalism-based compromise only works if you trust that the other side is acting in good faith. If Frank & Co. have no respect for the law of California, why should we expect them to respect the laws anywhere?


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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