Kellie Fiedorek is legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom.
In the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling Friday, more was at stake than whether the Constitution requires states to change their definition of marriage to include relationships between individuals of the same sex. What hung precariously in the balance was the future of our democratic system of government — whether Americans have the freedom to democratically address the most pressing social issues of the day and, ultimately, whether their votes matter.
It is this aspect of the high court’s decision that should capture every American’s attention and concern, regardless of one’s opinion on the definition of marriage.
Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are . . . the voters of this country.” Unfortunately, however, on Friday the court significantly eroded U.S. democracy as we know it and jeopardized the freedom of Americans to determine important social issues, both directly and through their elected representatives.
In 31 states, after engaging in robust debate, voters chose to affirm marriage as the union of a man and a woman in their constitutions. Meanwhile, citizens in other states decided to redefine marriage in their laws. The people in all these states demonstrated how the democratic process works — that citizens are free not only to discuss and disagree on an emotionally charged topic with momentous societal impact but also to go to the ballot box and express their beliefs on how to resolve the issue for their state.
But the court undercut this fundamental right. Five lawyers negated the voices of tens of millions of Americans who voted to reaffirm the definition of marriage and obstructed our system of government by appropriating from our elected leaders their constitutional right to make policy. In so doing, the court cast a shadow on every American’s trust that his or her engagement in the democratic process will have an impact.
By inserting itself into an arena where it does not belong, the court may have pleased in the short term those who believe marriage should be redefined. But the long-term repercussions of this action may be grave for anyone who cares about preserving our democratic form of government.
In the end, each of us has diverse beliefs about many things that the Constitution does not speak on directly — whether it be marriage, health care, education or some other important issue. And our ability to voice these differing perspectives on what is best for society makes the United States strong.
Indeed, because of our political and intellectual diversity, we will disagree daily with one another on some subject or another. But being able to live peacefully with each other while we exchange ideas, and sometimes vote on them, is what the United States is all about. Compared with many other issues, the robust discussion on how to define the marital relationship has barely just begun.
So before you applaud or criticize the court’s decision, take a step back to make sure you’re reacting for the right reasons. Consider whether our democratic system of government remains protected. Ask whether our fundamental right to vote still carries the import that it should and whether lawmakers remain free to enact policies that reflect the views of their communities with the confidence that the judiciary won’t unjustly discard those decisions.
Although the Constitution protects many individual freedoms, we cannot forget our collective constitutional freedom to debate and decide for ourselves matters of profound public importance, such as the future of marriage. The freedom to democratically address the most pressing social issues of the day lies at the heart of liberty. The Supreme Court’s decision last week imperils that cherished freedom for all Americans.