Words have meanings. Laws and constitutions have specific purposes. Representative government warrants respect. We learn these truths early - in elementary school or even before. But some people find all of this rather inconvenient.
Some of these frustrated folks become lawyers and even judges. From the bench, they overturn the will of the people as communicated through their elected representatives and make judicial decisions not according to constitutions or laws, but based on their own preferences and ideologies.
We saw this on Feb. 4 when Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan, declared that a state law prohibiting homosexual couples from marrying was unconstitutional. New York City is appealing, which puts the decision on hold until a higher court rules. A final ruling by the state's Court of Appeals would cover the entire state.
This coincides with efforts on Long Island to move toward redefining marriage. In December, Babylon became the sixth Long Island town to establish a domestic partner registry for residents living together "who choose not to or are legally prohibited from marrying." The town board's lone non-Democrat, independent Lindsay Henry, was the only vote against, and said supporters of the registry were pursuing "a bigger agenda."
Ling-Cohan's 62-page decision advances this bigger agenda. It reads like a caricature of unbridled activism where a judge decides to legislate. She tosses away sound judicial reasoning in favor of writing an advocacy piece for so-called gay marriage.
She seems more concerned with feelings than the law. For example, Ling-Cohan spends about four pages describing the people involved in the case, and notes that one child "feels that it is unfair that her [lesbian] parents cannot be married to each other." Meanwhile, this judge discards the critical issue of who should decide such matters - legislators or the courts - in less than a page.
Removing legislative responsibilities from legislators and taking them on herself, Ling-Cohan changes the meanings of words and the law. She declares that "the words 'husband,' 'wife,' 'groom' and 'bride,' as they appear in the relevant sections of the Domestic Relations Law, are and shall be construed to mean 'spouse,' and all personal pronouns . . . are and shall be construed to apply equally to either men or women." So she changes the definition of marriage to fit her own preferences.
Meanwhile, proponents of gay marriage have attacked New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He favors same-sex marriages, but the city is appealing, in part, because the state constitution and state law do not allow such things. Some say this is posturing by Bloomberg. Maybe, but at least it shows more respect for the law than Ling-Cohan exhibits.
With judges willing to ignore legislative intent and change meanings on a whim, the need for a marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution is obvious. In his State of the Union address, President George W. Bush declared: "Because marriage is a sacred institution and the foundation of society, it should not be re-defined by activist judges. For the good of families, children and society, I support a constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage."
The law has protected traditional marriage for many reasons over the centuries, including morality, societal stability, and for procreation purposes and the positive, complementary influences that a father and a mother have on children. As Christian ethicist Gilbert Meilaender of Valparaiso University put it: "The sexual union of man and woman is at the center of our nature and sustains our history."
Now judges are attacking the law. In fact, it's more than judicial activism; it's judicial nihilism. Only an amendment - a legitimate aspect of our constitutional and representative government - can protect the true meaning of marriage.
Raymond J. Keating is a columnist with Newsday, and a regular columnist for OrthodoxyToday.org. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read this article on the Newsday website (link closed). Reprinted with permission.