Steve Chapman

He has new company among the GOP presidential aspirants, who support the 10th Amendment except when they don't. When New York legalized same-sex marriage, Perry first said, "That's New York, and that's their business, and that's fine with me." But he soon reversed course, endorsing the Federal Marriage Amendment, which says marriage "shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman."

Bachmann has made a similar exception. Asked about same-sex marriage in New York, she said that "the states have the right to set the laws that they want to set." Then she threw herself behind a constitutional amendment to repeal that right.

Pawlenty? Romney? More of the same. The conspicuous exception is Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who has a weirdly consistent respect for the principles of federalism.

Perry tries to reconcile the contradiction by insisting that he's merely trying to keep activist federal judges from overruling the states that limit matrimony to its traditional form. He fears the U.S. Supreme Court may someday rule that gays have a constitutional right to wed their partners.

But that's not an argument for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. It's an argument for a constitutional amendment to guarantee states the right to ban it.

Perry and the others are straining to make two and two equal five. "The support of a marriage amendment is a pro-states' rights position," he says, "because it will defend the rights of states to define marriage as it has been." This is like saying that a draft protects a young man's right to serve in the military.

The more important fact is that the amendment takes away the right of states to make their own choices -- and in a realm where they have always had great latitude. It does not uphold the sovereignty of states to let them adopt one policy and only one. The test of a commitment to federalism is supporting it even when it yields unpalatable outcomes.

The 10th Amendment has plenty of admirers professing their love. But as any fetching young female soon learns, such declarations are not always sincere.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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