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Defining marriage


Defining marriage

Regarding state Sen. Jason Rapert's recent guest column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, he makes some good points, but I think there are other ways to analyze the matter, irrespective of the merits of the issue. If our president can change his mind on same-sex marriage less than two years ago, surely this is a fair topic for discussion.

Let us not forget that those who opposed federal marriage legislation, whether DOMA or a constitutional amendment, did so on the ground that issues of marriage are matters of state law for the individual states to decide. So be it. The Arkansas voters then spoke loud and clear, by a supermajority no less, apparently to no avail. Judge Chris Piazza is a fine jurist and a good man, before whom I practice regularly, but he is no more qualified or empowered to issue edicts on such cultural matters than any judge. His opinion also contains some highly questionable propositions, such as that the voters acted solely out of animus, there was no "conceivable legitimate state interest or purpose" and the "speculation" that children of "opposite-sex marriages" (his words) were better off that children of same-sex marriages. A few comments are in order. First, where in the record is the evidence that the voters acted out of animus? Second, and more importantly, where is it written that it is exclusively the province of the judiciary to decide what is or is not a legitimate state interest? Do the legislature, executive and electorate have no say in the matter? The constitution provides otherwise. Third, where does he get the authority — and where is the factual basis in the court record — to opine which relationships are better for children? The only speculation is found in his opinion when he implies that the adopted children of same-sex couples are as well off as children of traditional families, despite thousands of years of human experience versus recent history and no valid scientific evidence or empirical data. Lastly, his decision assumes that he is more qualified to make that determination than the voters. That is what I, and I think Sen. Rapert, find so frustrating.

No one disputes that marriage is a fundamental right. The cases that recognize that right, however, starting with Griswold v. Conn. (which struck down contraceptive bans and explicitly recognized a right of privacy that I cannot locate in my Constitution), were based on the sacred marital relation between husband and wife, which actually pre-dates the Constitution by a few thousand years and which, alone, has the inherent potential for procreation. Let's leave the Scriptures out of the debate. Are we to void natural law, too, on the ground that it is discriminatory? The true questions then are simply: What is marriage and who gets to decide? What relationships does society recognize as fundamental and deserving of recognition and constitutional protection? No one proposes putting constitutional rights up to a vote. That is a "straw man" argument that no one advocates. After all, marriages and families are the central units around which we have organized our society. It is not for judges to decide what is or is not a fundamental right, or to proclaim who has what rights and who does not. Rather, the judicial role is to enforce and protect those rights society chooses to recognize as fundamental. As the racial voting patterns and recent gathering of African-American ministers show, it is also fallacious to compare this issue with civil rights. Civil rights arose from discrimination based upon immutable personal characteristics, such as race and sex (which used to be immutable). The judiciary played a vital role in that area — not by declaring that civil rights are fundamental — but by enforcing and protecting the rights that society recognized as fundamental. After all, we fought a Civil War and passed the 14th Amendment to establish and enshrine these rights.

What I feared is occurring before our eyes. A hotly debated issue in the "culture wars" — involving the central organizing principle of our society — is being pre-empted, removed from the public sphere and decided by the judiciary, which is not empowered or qualified to decide the issue for us. Public opinion is evolving in this area, no question. It may trend toward or away from traditional marriage, but all citizens and adherents of representative democracy will respect the result if the judges will get out of the way and trust our democratic process to work this out.

Just as Clemenceau said that war was far too important to be left up to generals, marriages and families are far too important to be left up to the judges.

Michael Emerson

Little Rock

It takes a village

Max Brantley's lament on the LRSD ("Drastic measures for LR schools," June 12) caused this response and, more than likely, wasted time. The Village School concept has been described by this writer in print many times. Now I know some, perhaps many, are thinking, "I never heard of that." Such is the power structure of Little Rock. Powerful People keep an idea isolated to the opinion pages and friendly conversations so that it never has a full and unbiased hearing. Isolating thinkers to the back pages allows the Powerful People to control the place. The public is allowed police protection because those same police protect the Powerful People. We have reasonable city management because the Powerful People use the city. The good public schools are those controlled by the Powerful People. For the most part, the Powerful People use private schools.

A Village School has several grades located on one campus. The private schools are all villages as is eStem. It is the best educational environment because you get more for your money and it builds strong community. The old structure of neighborhood schools in a district run by expensive administrators is costly and destroys community. With modern technology, one staff can manage a county. Village Schools are self-governing. The first Village should be established in the Central High area. After that, picture the campus of PA or the Episcopal School, and place them wherever there is good space. A Village campus is so large that it is unaffected by neighborhood. Of course, eStem is unique for not having a campus, just buildings. Perhaps the entire city is its campus.

Early this year, there was a casual invite extended to talk with the planning board about the Village concept and the Central High area, in particular. A PowerPoint was created for the meeting. As it has too often happened, the meeting did not take place. The Powerful People operate that way. They make you jump through hoops until you are exhausted while they enjoy the good life. The worst thing about the Powerful People is that they think they know all the answers. Being all-powerful and knowledgeable, there is absolutely no need to associate with peons. We are kept at arm's length with only the ability to waste our time on the opinion page.

Richard Emmel

Little Rock

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