Bob Barr on Same-Sex Marriage and Federalism

Here is Bob Barr’s statement on the California Supreme Court ruling regarding same-sex 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.”

I’m not distracted by the potential implications of Barr’s view of federalism. This isn’t nearly enough to assume he holds the same flawed understanding of federalism espoused by Ron Paul, so I won’t assume that. But, if not for the second paragraph, I might consider such a possibility harder.

About that second paragraph… First, this from The Liberty Papers:

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.

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.

That’s my understanding of this issue. Given how the full faith and credit issue with regard to DOMA is much stickier than just a “leave it to the states” position implies, Barr’s second paragraph is more an indication of how I should evaluate his approach to governing. Is he suggesting that we should behave as if simplicity is sufficient where facts demonstrate complexity? Is the stated intent behind legislation more important than the outcome of (poorly-worded) legislation? Does it matter if the negative consequences of simplifying the complex are predictable?

What Barr wanted to ensure with DOMA is worth discussing, but how he wanted to prevent states from “being forced” to accept valid laws of other states indicates a disagreeable approach to governing.