Thursday, July 24, 2008

New Article By Matt Kinnaman

Thursday, July 24

Imperial attitude
By Matt Kinnaman

Attention, all ideologies. It's not about gay marriage after all. It's actually about the Legislature's roughshod ride over the basic values of representative democracy.

That's the inescapable conclusion following last week's actions in the Massachusetts Senate.

Let's set the stage. Legislatively, Massachusetts is the nation's supreme Democratic Party stronghold. In the Massachusetts Senate, 35 of 40 seats are held by Democrats. In the House, 141 of 160 seats are held by Democrats. This stranglehold on political control by the Massachusetts Democratic Party has created an environment in which legislators evidently feel free to do whatever they want. Within their 88 percent majority, there are no measures to hold them accountable to the people who elected them.

Consider this: In its July 15 decision to repeal the "1913 Law," a Massachusetts marriage statute prohibiting out-of-state persons from marriages in the commonwealth which would be illegal in their home states, the Senate took a voice vote, allowing its members to avoid individually recorded votes on a question at the very center of our most momentous human understandings.

News reports indicated that not even one state senator raised any substantive debate prior to the voice vote.

No recorded votes? No debate? How in the world did they justify that? Well, they didn't. They just went ahead and did it. But even people who disagree with one another about the definition of marriage can still agree about this: State marriage statutes involve monumental questions pertaining to the essence of our shared agreements about critical social arrangements, the interactions of our laws and the foundations of our federal system of government. To which our Senate shrugged its collective shoulders and figuratively said, "So what's the big deal?"

Maybe they thought nobody would catch on. After all, the state senators used a framework of false pretenses to accommodate their maneuver, claiming they were eliminating vestiges of racism underlying the 1913 Law. Oops. Not really. Massachusetts made interracial marriage completely legal in the commonwealth in 1843, seven decades before 1913. Reflecting on the origins of the 1913 Law, Democrat Attorney General Thomas Reilly's office stated in 2004 that "...there is not the slightest evidence that this purpose (prohibitions of interracial marriage) actually motivated the Massachusetts Legislature" in its original enactment of the 1913 Law.

Reilly was not alone. After discovering a right to same-sex marriage in 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court later upheld the 1913 Law as constitutional in the related case of Cote-Whitacre in 2006, when Justice Francis Spina wrote for the majority: "It is not the province of (the court) to dictate to other states how to construe their own specific statutes and public policy when confronted with the issue whether to recognize a same-sex marriage performed in Massachusetts."

Spina held that Massachusetts "has a significant interest in not meddling in matters in which another state, the one where a couple actually resides, has a paramount interest."

In other words, Massachusetts' 1913 Law is legally and logically cohesive and necessary within our federal constitutional system, designed to protect the integrity of each respective state's laws. Given this rational point, and in light of the many critical and pressing concerns on larger issues of education, taxation and health care affecting life in Massachusetts, the Senate's urgent undercover repeal of the 1913 Law without debate and without a roll call of votes was out of line by any measurement of legal reasoning, political accountability or wise legislative prioritization.

When our elected officials attempt to modify the foundations of our human societal structures, along with the federal constitutional relationship among the states, and in doing so are unwilling to engage in thorough debate or a public record of their individual votes, they have reached an unprecedented pinnacle of political arrogance, combined with an abdication of the two highest responsibilities of their office: transparent accountability to the voters and honest, deliberate consideration of critical legal precedent.

But this imperial attitude is a pattern in Massachusetts politics under the current Democratic Party majority. They have ignored the people's approval of an income tax rollback since 2000. Since 2002, they have blockaded the constitutionally approved and completed initiative-petition process guaranteeing voters a voice in the marriage debate. And now House Speaker Sal DiMasi promises to diss the voters again if they approve Question 1, a measure to eliminate the state income tax.

All of which indicates that there's one more elimination required at the ballot box; the elimination of the one-party super majority ensconced on Beacon Hill.

Matt Kinnaman's Getting it Right column appears every Thursday in the Transcript.