OpEd by Del. Dave LaRock
Yesterday, a Federal Judge in Louisiana issued a decision upholding the rule of law, federalism, and the democratically-expressed will of citizens. Judge Martin L. C. Feldman upheld Louisiana’s constitutional authority to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman—as 78 percent of Louisiana voters did in 2004.
Feldman answered the two central issues in this debate—the policy question: What is marriage, and the legal question: Who gets to define marriage. Finding that the state had a “legitimate interest under a rational basis”, for “addressing the meaning of marriage through the democratic process”, Feldman noted that Louisiana’s marriage law furthers two important interests: “linking children to an intact family formed by their biological parents, as specifically underscored by Justice Kennedy in Windsor” and “safeguarding that fundamental social change … is better cultivated through democratic consensus.”
Feldman ruled that Louisiana has a rational basis to define marriage as the union of a man and woman: “The Court is persuaded that a meaning of what is marriage that has endured in history for thousands of years, and prevails in a majority of states today, is not universally irrational…. Louisiana’s laws and Constitution are directly related to achieving marriage’s historically preeminent purpose of linking children to their biological parents….”
On federalism and democracy, Feldman cites the Supreme Court’s decision in the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) case, U.S. v. Windsor, as support that Louisiana has the right to define marriage for itself. Feldman writes: “Windsor repeatedly and emphatically reaffirmed the longstanding principle that the authority to regulate the subject of domestic relations belongs to the states…” and “Louisiana’s regime pays respect to the democratic process; to vigorous debate….” Feldman’s decision quoted from Judge Paul V Niemeyer, who in July dissented in a three-judge decision to strike down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban. “If given the choice, some states will surely recognize same-sex marriage and some will surely not,” Niemeyer wrote, and Feldman quoted. “But that is, to be sure, the beauty of federalism.”
This ruling follows one last month by Roane County Circuit Judge Russell Simmons in Tennessee, as a breath of fresh air. Judge Simmons asserted that marriage is an issue that was left to the states, and “neither the Federal Government nor another state should be allowed to dictate to Tennessee what has traditionally been a state’s responsibility.” I agree; voters and state legislators, not judges, should decide who is allowed to marry.
In its recent decision striking down Virginia’s Marriage Amendment, the Fourth Circuit erroneously elevated its opinion over the collective judgment of the people of Virginia who adopted the Marriage Amendment to the Virginia Constitution. The jurisdictional authority to define marriage within our Commonwealth was usurped when two members of a three judge panel issued an order overruling the collective judgment of millions of voters in an act of raw, political will. Dissenting Judge Niemeyer decried the court’s actions, stating that “there is no fundamental right to same-sex marriage and there are rational reasons for not recognizing it….”
In Virginia, and in many other states, voters have decided that the public good is best served by adhering to the one man-one woman definition of marriage. It is their right to decide this question and to have that decision respected by the courts.
This case, and the dozens like it, are about more than defining marriage. They are a battle over the right of states and their citizens to enact laws through the democratic process. As Judge Feldman noted, this right has come under attack from those who resent legal diversity and intend to impose their own values on everyone in our nation. The correct response to this is simple – federal judges need to respect the rights of citizens to determine the laws of their states.