New Paltz Follies

Last Friday, a New York state judge issued a temporary restraining order that barred the mayor of New Paltz from performing same-sex "marriages." In his order, Judge Vincent Bradley said that Mayor Jason West had "[ignored] the oath of office that he took to uphold the law." On that same day, New York governor George Pataki promised that the state government was prepared to crack down on any local official that issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples. While this is good news and a step in the right direction in New York, we still have a long way to go in opposing a campaign that undermines the rule of law. Across the country, lawlessness continues to break out. Local governments in California, Oregon, and New Mexico have pledged to continue what they call a campaign of "civil disobedience." In evaluating their claim, the first thing we need to remember is that each of these municipalities and counties is a part of a larger political entity: the state. States like California contain communities with different cultural perspectives; people in Fresno, for instance, do not see the world the way people in L.A. or San Francisco do. Since they are outnumbered by representatives from these two cities, they are undoubtedly subject to laws they themselves would not have enacted. But no one thinks that this gives the people of Fresno the right to disregard state laws they don't like. Instead they have the right to try, through democratic means, to change the law. Well, what's true for Fresno is equally true in San Francisco. Remember that in California the people just voted overwhelmingly in favor of a referendum establishing that marriage is a union of one man and one woman. What about civil disobedience? In Christian thought, the civil authorities are due our obedience. But that duty isn't absolute. The state may not command what God has prohibited, nor can it act arbitrarily or capriciously. But, biblically, there are no grounds here for disobedience. It also needs to be noted that in a democratic polity such as ours, civil disobedience is always a last resort. Those who believe the law is in error have the obligation to work through the democratic process before resorting to civil disobedience. That hasn't happened in San Francisco or New Paltz or anywhere else. On the contrary, city officials are simply attempting to circumvent the democratic process altogether. Their claim to moral kinship to the civil rights movement is spurious. African Americans were shut out of the democratic process; civil disobedience was one of the few options available. The same cannot be said of gay Americans who are heavily involved in politics. What's happening isn't a blow for freedom, but a reckless disregard for law. This disregard should trouble every American, regardless of his or her opinion about same-sex "marriage," because lawlessness leads to tyranny. The rule of law is the most fundamental principle of free societies that came, incidentally, from a Christian influence in the Reformation. We don't get to pick which laws we'll obey. And those who try to do so are a threat to the rule of law that has made our way of life and freedom possible in the first place. For further reading and information: "Bloomberg, New Paltz Mayor March in Gay-Inclusive Parade," NBC, 8 March 2004. Jesse J. Smith, "More gays wed in New Paltz, but without embattled mayor," DAILY FREEMAN, 7 March 2004. Matthew Cox, "New Paltz, N.Y. Mayor Says He Plans More Gay Weddings," Bloomberg, 3 March 2004. Lea Brilmayer, "Full Faith and Credit," Wall Street Journal, 9 March 2004. Thomas Sowell, "'Gay marriage' confusions,", 9 March 2004. Lisa Schiffren, "How the Judges Forced the President's Hand," New York Times, 29 February 2004. (Archived article; costs $2.95 to retrieve.) Stanley Kurtz, "Courts vs. the People," National Review Online, 4 March 2004. Fred Bayles, "1913 law could foil plans for gay marriages in Mass.," USA Today, 9 March 2004. BreakPoint Commentary No. 040217, "Bucking the Trend: Courts Resist Lawrence." BreakPoint Commentary No. 040226, "An Epidemic of Lawbreaking: San Francisco's Gay 'Marriages'."


Chuck Colson


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