Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported a shift in political support for same-sex “marriage” legislation in New York State. Four state senators (three Democrats, one Republican) who had voted against the measure two years ago have now publicly declared their support, and with a few more Republican defections anticipated, politicians on both sides of the issue expect the measure to clear the senate and become law.
For this blog, I’d like to focus on the explanations the politicians offered the WSJ in support of their realignment on the issue.
First, there is republican Sen. Jim Alesi, whose reported rationale was that “Social justice should apply to all.” Few phrases appear more frequently in contemporary ethical discourse than “social justice,” and few are as malleable. In its context, Alesi’s usage of the term reflects the view that social justice is to be construed as fairness manifesting in identical treatment under the law. More generally, the issue is, for Alesi, a moral one, and on that point we agree. In truth, each and every law (proposed or enacted) reflects a particular vision of what is right and good. Anyone who says “you cannot legislate morality” is either ignorant or dishonest for law by its very nature reflects moral vision—be it good or bad. So, in weighing legislative proposals, one ought to carefully consider the moral assumptions that undergird the competing positions. On the issue at hand, Alesi’s conception of justice is certainly ripe for examination, and it begs the question “what is justice?” Will justice truly be served if homosexual “marriage” is granted legal sanction?
Second, there is the response of Sen. Joseph Addabbo, who reportedly remarked “For me, my vote was about one thing: my people and my district.” The WSJ reporter, Jacob Gershman, interpreted Addabbo’s comment as indicative of the senator’s sensitivity to the views of his constituents, and he is probably right though other interpretations are possible. Less ambiguous was the comment of Addabbo’s colleague, Sen. Shirley Huntley: “I did a survey. I can tell you the numbers had changed.” As presented, Huntley’s position rests on the notion that the legislator’s primary task is to deliver on the preferences of some critical mass of voters, presumably a perceived majority. Legislating in this manner may be expedient and facilitative of one’s efforts to remain in power, but is it right and proper? Does government exist merely to ratify and enact the impulse of the majority? To whom are legislators chiefly accountable?
Lastly and, perhaps, most forthright was the explanation of Sen. Carl Kruger, who proudly proclaimed, “We’re about to redefine what the American family is, and that’s a good thing.” Kruger is to be commended for his honest disclosure of intent, but what about his bold moral claim? Is the social transformation Kruger has in mind truly a “good thing?” By what measure should we assess that claim?
I’ve asked several questions, and certainly there are more. Your thoughts?