Checks and balancesEditorial, Top Highlights Thursday, July 9th, 2015
No my message this week is not about your bank account. The “checks and balances” we should all be celebrating this 2015 Pride are in the U.S. Constitution. When you were taught the concept in civics or social studies class, you were probably bored to tears. How would you know that checks and balances would come to mean so much to you as an LGBT American?
As you know, the United States Constitution provides for a separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. To ensure that one branch of government does not garner too much power, the concept of checks and balances was put into our Constitution. This concept is what helped lead to marriage equality.
While the leadership of President Obama was critical in moving LGBT equality forward over the last six and one half years (read his full comments from the Rose Garden on the opposite page), it is the concept of checks and balances within the U.S. Constitution that allowed the LGBT community, just like women and the African American community before it, to achieve a modicum of equality through the Supreme Court.
Simply put, Congress passes bills that must be signed by the president to become law. Once a bill becomes a law, the judiciary reviews and interprets the law. During the Obama administration we have watched in amazement while all three branches of government have worked to advance marriage equality, each using the powers granted them. Each branch was also using the “checks and balances” within the Constitution to ensure that no branch of government was exercising too much power and discriminating against LGBT people. Our second president John Adams and advocate of checks and balances in the Constitution thought they would prevent the “tyranny of the majority” and he was right.
Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into law preventing recognition of same-sex marriage by the federal government. The legislative and executive branches were exercising their power to make law. So did the voter. Thirty one states voted in various restrictions to same-sex marriage. It would take several state courts, Massachusetts being the first, to say that bans against same-sex marriage were discriminatory that would lead to marriage equality. The state legal rulings were in direct conflict with DOMA.
The conflict between DOMA and positive same-sex marriage rulings provided the path for the Supreme Court to exercise their power of judicial review. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled DOMA unconstitutional and “checked” the legislative and executive branch who had passed the discriminatory law. With DOMA gone, additional challenges to same-sex marriage bans in several states made their way through the courts leading to the Supreme Court ruling supporting marriage equality. The ultimate “check” on the discriminatory laws passed by state legislatures, governors, and yes, voters.
As you celebrate this special Pride take time to reflect on the powers of the three branches of government outlined in the U.S. Constitution, which for centuries has been a respected model for governance around the world particularly with respect to civil rights.
While you sat in civics or social studies class secretly eyeing the boy, girl, or both, of your LGBT dreams, you should have been paying as much attention to the teacher. Your teacher was trying to educate you about the U.S. Constitution, democracy and how it affects your life. Unlike algebra, the principles taught in that social studies class are critical to your everyday life in America. Aren’t you glad someone in class was paying attention?
Go out and celebrate the wonder that is America, who in the end always gets it right. Have a safe and happy Pride. Let freedom ring.
San Diego LGBT Weekly
Short URL: http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=62086