8/9/10

Judge strikes down proposition 8

As you may have heard, a judge in California struck down Proposition 8 (the referendum that state voters passed defining marriage as between one man and one woman) as unconstitutional.

Click here for comments from Christianity Today (the following is a provocative quotation):

Judge Walker's decision is sweeping and comprehensive, basically affirming every argument and claim put forth by those demanding that California's Proposition 8 be declared unconstitutional. That proposition, 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. In one brazen act of judicial energy, California's voters were told that they had no right to define marriage, and thousands of years of human wisdom were discarded as irrational.

Several things strike me here:

As a (rather common) observer of culture, I note the lack of historical consciousness that we see in this decision. The judge feels no burden for continuity with all of human civilization (which was before our nation existed, and will live on after our nation is dead) on the nature of marriage. We Americans can make and remake the fabric of society however we want - it's a free country after all...right? I believe the implications of this kind of (in my opinion, rather naive) thinking need to be further explored.

Also very interesting to me from a political theory point of view is the tension we see here between the will of the common people for how they should be governed and the will of an unelected, entrenched, and politically powerful judiciary. I would think, that in a democratic republic, the burden of proof would fall upon those who wish to overturn the will of the people, yet in the judge's statement, it seems that things were quite the other-way-round. What might this mean, I wonder, for the future of our political system in which the people are supposed to govern ourselves?

Finally there is the use of the words "rational" and "irrational" in the judge's decision (and in the CT article criticizing it). I worry that these words, both in political and theological discourse, have been strained to the point of near meaninglessness by contemporary cultural debates. Opposing "sides" simply assert the irrationality of their opponents' positions and then disagree on what is or is not 'rational.' Yet this betrays what logical reasoning actually IS. It is not opinion that is merely asserted - logical reasoning is objective and a rational conclusion can be demonstrated as such through tools such as the logical syllogism.

Logical reasoning is a skill available to every person (just like solving math problems) and so if we take the time and mental energy to "reason together" there should be no disagreement on what is or is not rational, or at least if there is a disagreement we should be able to identify exactly what differently understood premise causes the disagreement and focus our research in this area.

Yet this seems never to happen. Assertions (indeed, slogans) have all but replaced reasoning and demonstration in our cultural discourse. It seems to me that a basic course in elementary logic is badly needed by most of our populace. I think it ought at least to be required of all college students throughout this nation.

For a better discussion than I can manage on this aspect (the nature of moral and legal rationality) see here.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Stephen said...

Back to our own conversations I still maintain that this decision has a lot to do with authority. Especially authority in the American sense. We have convinced ourselves in this American Dream we are the masters of our own destiny.

For some reason our choice is the only one that matters. "I think therefore I am" maybe? Community, Continuity, Reasoning be done away with in the best interest of ourselves...whatever side we are on.

Interesting side note in the political realm who was for this v. against in the last Presidential election:
McCain was against prop 8 (Wife did ads against it)
Obama was the one who was hesitant to support non traditional marriages.

9:18 PM, August 12, 2010  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Yeah, beyond activist judges (who will not lose their jobs because of popular anger) the political folks seem to be treading this one carefully. I think we really ought to have a discussion about whether the government wants to stay in the "marriage" business at all, and then, if so, how to conceive of and regulate it.

And this conversation should most emphatically happen in the elected legislatures of our country since deciding these things is their purpose (which in a step away from classical American political theory has been surrendered on this issue to referendums of the people on the one hand and to the courts on the other). I wonder if many of the legislators are simply afraid to take a stand here, since it will mean trouble for them no matter where they do stand.

Right now its all a willie-nillie patchwork of referendums and judicial decress and state laws and so on.

11:38 AM, August 13, 2010  

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