Last month we all celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech; a fitting and right celebration. Discrimination against someone for their God-given skin color is obviously wrong no matter what color you are. Last month, however, some also celebrated a decision by our county clerk, Lynn Ellins, to issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples. But this is not a civil rights issue similar to what MLK fought for because one is a genetic trait while the other is behavioral. Fighting for a “civil right” based on the sexual behavior of an individual demeans what MLK and others rightfully fought for. However, the most severe infraction by Mr. Ellins was his disregard for the Rule of Law.
Today, many of the developed countries in the world are democratic-republics similar to our country. However, we tend to take this for granted and assume this type of government has always dominated. But history tells a different story. In fact, when the United States was born there were zero republican forms of government. It has only been through our influence around the world in the last couple hundred years that we now witness dozens of truly free nations. But make no mistake, the history of mankind and government has been dominated by tyranny; and republics are not only the exception to the rule, but very fragile as well. What preserves and distinguishes our great country is the Rule of Law.
The Rule of Law is a foundational tenet of our country that refers to the influence and authority of law within our society. Its purpose is to constrain the behavior of citizens; but more importantly, to constrain the behavior of government officials.
Mr. Ellins broke this rule last month when he unilaterally decided same-sex marriage is legal in New Mexico. I’ve heard some argue Mr. Ellins was only doing his job by upholding the constitution, but this is incorrect. While the constitution trumps law, it cannot create law. And it is not the job of our county clerk to decide what is constitutional or not. Our legislature creates laws, and the courts decide constitutionality; not Mr. Ellins. In fact, as a lower-level government official, it is Mr. Ellins’ job to simply comply with existing law.
Some also argue same-sex marriage is already lawful in New Mexico because the laws defining marriage are gender neutral. Ironically, Mr. Ellins first claimed the opposite. According to a Sun-News report on March 20, Mr. Ellins said, “State statute makes it clear a marriage license to a couple never married before is issued to a man and a woman.” He continued by saying marriage applications referenced by state statute “talks about a male providing his information and a female providing hers.” Based on these facts, Mr. Ellins then stated, “I wouldn’t issue a license to a same-sex couple.” Since then, however, Mr. Ellins has changed his mind, revealing political bias in his decision rather than adherence to the rule of law.
Some argue same-sex marriage is a constitutional right based on the “equal protection” clause of the 14th Amendment. But this is just as flawed as using the “due process” clause to claim abortion rights; it’s simply not there. Equal protection means that all have the right to live freely, as long as you’re abiding by the law. For example, everyone would agree that voting is a fundamental right, but there are qualifications/restrictions as to who can partake based on age, citizenship, and criminal records. It is no different with marriage.
My real concern is when government officials, whether county clerks or even Supreme Court justices, make decisions without the benefit of a thorough debate and vote, especially on controversial issues. The winners are deprived of the satisfaction of a true democratic victory; and the losers are left despondent with lingering frustration that the debate was unnaturally curtailed. This does not promote unity, but further polarization.
Lastly, political decisions should not be made based on ever-changing social fads, but rather on an unchanging set of principles. Until recently, our country has always defined marriage between one man and one woman. And it was a mere 17 years ago that the Defense of Marriage Act solidified this through huge veto-proof majorities in congress with wide-spread support from both Democrats and Republicans. Now, many have suddenly changed their minds. Did the constitution change? No, people changed. It is a mistake to affect our laws based on ever-changing whims when the moral values used to create this country have proven so successful for the first 200 years of our existence. Sadly, our departure from this standard over the last generation is reaping devastating effects.
Mr. Ellins and all elected officials have the responsibility to uphold all our laws; not just the ones they agree with. It is time to replace our mini-dictators by voting for those who understand the importance of the Rule-of-Law and how it helped shape our country into the greatest on Earth.