One significant development in the recent election was votes in four states approving same sex marriage initiatives. Until now, all previous state referenda to approve same sex marriage – 32 of them - failed.
The Wall Street Journal editorial page – a place where conservatives usually turn for intellectual capital – saw this as cause for celebration.
According to the Journal, marriage definition should come from voters, not from court orders. Americans, they argue, have “shown themselves more than capable of changing their views on gay marriage the democratic way.”
In other words, our definition of marriage should follow process, not principle. Let voters decide.
“As views on gay marriage change, and a growing number of Americans support it, politics will follow. This is how it’s supposed to work.”
I’d guess if I asked the Wall Street Journal editors if the American constitution should be viewed as a “living document” – if our understanding of its words and what they mean should be open to change to reflect attitudes of the moment – they would say “no.”
Liberals think the constitution should be re-engineered every few years like an iPad.
So it is not surprising when liberals, for whom tradition is meaningless, trash once sacred institutions in favor of impulses of the moment.
But it does surprise me when those whose politics are supposedly right-of-center, who view America’s founding documents as sacrosanct and give the highest priority to preserving their integrity, are cavalier regarding the integrity of an institution thousands of years older than our constitution.
But it’s a point of view not uncommon.
In the 1850’s, Stephen Douglas proposed solving the dilemma of whether slavery should be permitted in new states by suggesting that they should just vote. What could be more American than submitting the question of slavery to the democratic process of each state?
To this Abraham Lincoln observed: “God did not place good and evil before man telling him to make his choice. On the contrary, He did tell him there was one tree, of the fruit of which he should not eat, upon pain of certain death….I should scarcely wish so strong a prohibition against slavery in Nebraska.”
Lincoln’s rejoinder to the idea of “popular sovereignty” – that states should vote to determine if slavery would be legal – was that there are core truths – truths that define right and wrong, good and evil - that precede the democratic process.
To reject this premise is to buy into moral chaos. Which is what we are approaching today.