The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Legal Principle Vs. Ethical Principle

A post over at Hemant Mehta's blog addresses an issue that I often see getting lost in discussions of any hot-button legal case: the separation of the legal matter from the ethical principle of the case.

As I wrote about last week, the California Supreme Court decided that Proposition 8 was legal, and that the amendment to the state constitution was passed in a manner consistent with California's amendment process. I have already made my problems with California's amendment process known, and it probably goes without saying at this point that I view Proposition 8 as a rather unnerving example of people pushing their own arbitrary religious beliefs onto everyone else*. However, as the case was presented, the court could not rule on whether the proposition was ethical (and given the court's past rulings, it is likely that there were those on the bench who considered it unethical), but only on whether or not it passed legal muster.

I am not an attorney, and I do not know the intricacies of past cases or what, precisely went into this decision. I am not going to be one of these people who pretends to have this knowledge when I do not, and therefore I will not comment on whether or not the decision is a legally sound one. But, the basic principle that the court can only rule on cases brought before it AS those cases are presented is not only correct, it is necessary, and this point seems to get lost in the noise surrounding any hot button case.

Of course, this sort of thinking is in no way limited to those who support gay rights. When the court ruling allowing gay marriage in California was released, and again now that similar things are happening in New Hampshire, I often heard naively simplistic statements such as "the constitution doesn't specifically mention gay marriage so it doesn't apply" or "this is just another case of those damn liberal judges legislating from the bench", but I rarely saw anyone actually discuss the actual ruling issued by the court in question. The reasons are varied - some folks may not have thought to look it up, others may not have known how to access the decision, but other people (especially many of the big media figures who have discussed it) may be aware that the realities of the legal case in question defy their simplistic denunciations. But the same principal applies - the courts must work with the law, and that means that sometimes some people won't like the results. You can work to change the law, but you should not blame a judge or a panel of judges for making rulings consistent with that law, and you should at least make yourself familiar witht he ruling before attacking the judges for making it.

Anyway, I'm not saying anything new or groundbreaking here. I am disappointed with the result, and I am disgusted with the voters in my state. However, when we discuss the law, we need to make sure that we understand the distinction between legal rulings and our moral/ethical stances.

On the lighter side: You know how, everytime the issue of gay marriage come sup, some irrational dolt starts making implausible slippery-slope arguments? Well, Pat Robertson and Bill O'Reilly had what are probably the king of stupid comments, claiming that laws protecting gays or legalizing gay marriage would lead inevitably to people having sex with ducks. So, I was greatly amused to see this:

*Kay has told me that someone said to her "Proposition 8 passed because people are tired of having other people try to tell them how to live!" The Hell? Proposition 8 is ABOUT telling other people how to live, telling people that if they don't fit into some pre-described little box that the mob approves of that they must be relegated to second-class citizenship, not about people bucking that. The thing is, I keep hearing this sort of rationale, and it is so bass-ackward that it's impossible to even bring the people spouting this bullshit back to reality.


WoodEngineer said...

That video is hilarious. And I couldn't agree with you more.

Kay said...

Stupid work and not being able to watch the video.....

Anthroslug said...

Thanks Wood Engineer.

Kay - I take it that you were finally able to see the video. I thought it was pretty funny.

Kay said...

Indeed... cute girls making duck fuckingtastic music... what's not to like?

Evan Davis said...

So what you're saying is that you are disappointed with the people of California because they don't agree with your moral beliefs on this subject. I can respect that.