On Pennsylvania Mayors, Tom Ridge, Eric Alva, and the Moral Turpitude of Some Hecklers

While Pennsylvania was the first state with a law against interracial that chose to repeal said law, all the way back in 1780, Pennsylvania is also the state that elected Rick Santorum as a Senator, and it has not followed in the footsteps of many of its fellow Northeastern states by legalizing gay marriage.  However, as documented in this article (http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/882909_Which-Lancaster-County-mayors-will-perform-same-sex-marriages–if-legalized-.html), some Pennsylvania mayors are performing same-sex marriages. This practice is nothing new. Shortly after the Massachusetts Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco began performing same-sex marriages, until the California Supreme Court forced him to stop.

Like Gavin Newsom, the Pennsylvania mayors who have made the decision to defy their state’s law against gay marriage are American heroes. They have realized that their state’s legal code, like that of the majority of the codes of others states, as well as the federal government, discriminates against gays and lesbians. And they have decided not to sit idly by and wait for things to change. They have decided to fight for change themselves. By enforcing an anti-gay law, they would be part of the problem. Instead, they are now being part of the solution. Some people will argue that defying the law, even for a good reason, is wrong. This argument, however, fails to hold water. If people have a right to fair treatment, then that right cannot be contingent on law or the will of the majority. Hence, when the majority enacts an unjust law, there is no obligation to obey it. It is sometimes claimed that they will sow disrespect for the law and ultimately cause anarchy. If this is the case, however, the people who made the bad law are to blame, not the people who refused to obey it. Blaming the breakdown of law and order on people who break unjust laws would be like blaming the breakdown of a family on a battered man or woman who leaves their abusive partner. Socrates once argued that by choosing to live in a country, we are obligated to obey all its laws or accept our punishment for breaking them. I would submit that Socrates was wrong. The reason for obeying laws in general is because it benefits those around us. If a law is unjust, obeying it benefits nobody. Laws against same-sex marriage cause lots of harm and have no “benefit” except to give some bigoted heterosexuals a misplaced sense of superiority.

Postscript: I want to give a somewhat perfunctory congratulations to former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge. During his time as governor, Ridge signed a law reaffirming that gay marriage was illegal in Pennsylvania and mandating that same-sex marriages from other states would not be recognized. This year, however, he signed a brief urging the Supreme Court to strike down Prop 8. Glad you’ve come around, Mr. Ridge. You could have done a lot more for the cause if you had been this fair-minded as governor, but better late than never.

Postscript 2: In one of the very first posts I did back when I was on Tumblr, and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was still in place, I recounted the story of Eric Alva, the first American soldier to suffer a serious injury in Iraq, namely losing his right leg. I raised the issue of whether or not the United States wanted to be a country where someone like Alva had the fact that they were gay, while losing a limb serving in the military, then come home and be denied equal rights. Recently, Alva went to San Antonio to speak in favor of an anti discrimination law that had been proposed in the city. Alva, the man who had risked his life and sacrificed his right leg fighting in Iraq, was booed while trying to give his testimony. Of course, this isn’t the first time gay soldiers and veterans have been booed for suggesting that they should be treated fairly. It happened at a primary debate for Republican presidential candidates two years ago, and not one candidate on the stage said a word of reprimand to the hecklers. The boorish, outrageous behavior that some people engage in truly astounds me.

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