Then Why Bother With a State Constitution At All?

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Thankfully, a gay marriage-banning constitutional amendment failed to make it through the Iowa State Senate this week.

This latest attempt to enshrine (and in Iowa’s case, like California’s with Prop 8, impose) discrimination into a state’s founding document got me thinking. Anyone who tries to manipulate a Constitution in such ways really has no respect for the document at all.

“Constitution” is a word we don’t really use in the vernacular much anymore. But we can still talk about a person’s constitution. What is at a person’s core? What is that inner essence that makes a person tick? A person’s constitution is a measure of fortitude, an aggregate of all inherent characteristics. A constitution as a founding document is much the same. It’s the foundation upon which the laws and norms of that constituency can be built.

To change a constitution is to admit that it was not good enough in the beginning. To change a person’s constitution would require a life-changing event, a revelation, or lots of intense therapy. Similarly, a governmental constitution should be very difficult to change, and any change must be very carefully considered.

I’ll always carry a little bit of Iowa with me, in no short part because I was there through its achievement of marriage equality. When I think about all the anti-marriage equality folks still causing a stir, in addition to everything I might think or feel about them as a gay man, I also find their rhetoric to be particularly insulting to great state of Iowa.

Here is a state that has been on the forefront of civil rights throughout its history. Its Supreme Court unanimously determined that a ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. And it was their job to do so. What do they get for serving their state? Ousted. That’s a complete disrespect for the entire branch of government. (And who’s to say any new judges wouldn’t uphold the very same decision?)

And then, the anti-gay folks have the gall to try to impose a change to the state constitution just to get their way. Think about what they’re doing. They are trying to change the very fabric of the state. Either the constitution protects people’s equality in society or it doesn’t. Anybody who wants to change it because they don’t like the outcome has no respect for the document to begin with.

People who try to punish people for doing their jobs are bullies. People who try to impose a regressive societal change in complete opposition to the inherent values of that society are traitors.

Whoa, there’s a sentence that will get quoted out of context some day. Maybe even in the comments of this post.

But that’s just the thing with all these “social agenda” issues. It’s not yes or no. It’s not black or white.

It’s forward or backward.

A constitution is a foundation, but then we build upon it. If we can just go in and alter the infrastructure on a whim, then none of what we built upon it had much meaning to begin with. How can a state thrive if its constitution is so fluid that it has no general consistency?

Just look at California.

So when we face down opponents who are trying to use a constitution to hold back the progress of equality, we should be honest about who stands where. We shouldn’t be painting these folks as manipulators or suggesting they have any tactical advantage, regardless of their potential to use the public’s fear to suit their malevolent bigoted purposes.

We should be laughing them down as the anti-government turncoats they are. They want to dismantle the progress of society. Their motives are malicious against the state as much as against same-sex couples.

It’s funny how many of them call themselves “patriots.” They couldn’t be more wrong; they insult the term.

Gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are emerging as the newest full citizens of this nation. (Trans folks are still a few steps behind, and we really have to work on that.) While I will face down heterosexual and cisgender privilege (including my own) my entire life, I think I will at least see the day when I see full legal equality as a gay man. On the day that I do, I know it will be because of those who made sure that the foundations of our society were set up to favor movement forward, not backward. Anybody who thinks constitutions serve a different purpose ought to expatriate.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

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