Libertarian Party Presidential candidate Bob Barr released the following statement about yesterday’s ruling from the California Supreme Court on gay marriage:
“Regardless of whether one supports or opposes same sex marriage, the decision to recognize such unions or not ought to be a power each state exercises on its own, rather than imposition of a one-size-fits-all mandate by the federal government (as would be required by a Federal Marriage Amendment which has been previously proposed and considered by the Congress). The decision today by the Supreme Court of California properly reflects this fundamental principle of federalism on which our nation was founded.
“Indeed, the primary reason for which I authored the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 was to ensure that each state remained free to determine for its citizens the basis on which marriage would be recognized within its borders, and not be forced to adopt a definition of marriage contrary to its views by another state. The decision in California is an illustration of how this principle of states’ powers should work.”
Constitutionally speaking, of course, Barr is entirely correct. If states like New York, New Jersey, and California want to legalize gay marriage, they should be allowed to do so. The problem with the DOMA, though, is that it would seem to be a direct violation of the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution. With very limited exceptions, states are required to recognize the validly passed laws of their sister states, including laws about issues like marriage, adoption, and inheritance.
If lesbian couple legally married in New Jersey moves to, say, South Carolina because of a job change, does this mean they wouldn’t be entitled to same benefits as any other married couple, or that they wouldn’t be treated as a married couple if one of them happened to die while living in South Carolina ?
More importantly, though, Federalism simply doesn’t mean the same thing that it meant before the Civil War. The passage of the 14th Amendment, and the Supreme Court case law that has grown from that Amendment, forever changed the relationship between the people, the states, and the Federal Government, and one of the things that changed is the idea that you don’t lose your rights as an American citizen simply because you move from one state to another.
Barr’s position isn’t per se wrong. It’s just incomplete. Which is more than I can say for guys like John McCain.