Good Germans

Everyone who opposes what Kim Davis is doing, and most of those who think gay marriage is a spectacularly bad idea seem to agree that public officials should enforce the law no matter what personal reservations they may have. I wonder if such people have really thought the matter all the way through. Do they really believe that orders must be followed no matter what? Have we become a nation of Good Germans who blindly obey our superiors, even when they are morally questionable.

Actor George Takei (Mr. Sulu) is a gay activist who has insisted that Kim Davis should follow the law regardless of her beliefs. When Mr. Takei was a child, he was one of many Japanese-Americans who were taken from their homes and sent to internment camps during World War II. This policy was completely legal at the time and even upheld by the Supreme Court. Does Mr. Takei really believe that lawful orders must be upheld or that the Supreme Court is the final word on ethics and morals? What would have happened if public officials, elected or appointed had put their consciences above the law and refused to take part in what was obviously a terrible injustice? Most likely such an official would become very unpopular and a target of mobs, like Kim Davis. Probably anyone who tried to interfere with the internment of the Japanese-Americans would end up in jail, like Kim Davis.

(As it happens, one of the public officials who did object to the internment of Japanese-Americans was none other than liberal bete noir J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover objected to the policy in a memo he sent to Attorney General Francis Biddle, stating that there was no evidence of large-scale disloyalty in the Japanese-American community and the FBI was fully capable of handling any Japanese espionage or subversion that might occur. Hoover was never known to be a civil libertarian but perhaps he suspected that such an obviously unconstitutional policy would reflect badly on any supporters after the war hysteria died down. He may also have been concerned about the effects of a mass evacuation on the FBI counter espionage efforts.)

I am not suggesting that Kim Davis is any sort of hero on the scale of a Rosa Parks or even that she is doing the right thing. She is not standing up to Nazis or rescuing people from a disaster. I would like to point out that the argument used that she should simply obey the law and do her job is not really a very good one. There have been a great many evils perpetrated throughout history by people who have been simply following orders. The Supreme Court that has upheld slavery in the Dred Scott decision and segregation in Plessy vs. Ferguson, not to mention the murder of the innocent in Roe Vs Wade may not be the ultimate arbiter of what is right and wrong.

We have a federal system here in the United States with the government divided into three levels; federal, state and local. Any local ordinance that conflicts with state law is not valid and must be abrogated. In like fashion, a state law which conflicts with federal laws must give way to the federal law. The federal law itself is based on the Constitution and any law on any level of government that is not in accord with the constitution is invalid. In like fashion, there is a Natural or Divine Law which is above and which supersedes any merely human law. All man-made laws enacted by any legislature must be in accord with the Natural Law and the principles of justice or they are not valid. This concept of the natural law has existed at least since the time of the Ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle and was adopted and elaborated by the Stoics and the Romans, particularly by the Roman orator and philosopher Cicero. The idea of the natural law was further developed by Christian and Islamic theologians and played an important role in the thinking during the English Civil War and Glorious Revolution, and in our own War of Independence. The idea of the natural law is not too popular among political philosophers these days, at least not among the more progressive ones, since it implies that there is a standard of justice above the decrees of the state, that human rights are granted by nature or nature’s God and not as gifts from the state, and that the state has no right to reorganize or fundamentally transform human society from the ground up according to the Utopian notions of an elite of philosopher kings. This is a hateful doctrine indeed to those who worship the state.

Part of this natural law, grounded in human physiology, is that marriage is the union of a male and a female for the purpose of creating a family. Because two people of the same sex cannot fulfill the basic purpose of marriage, they cannot, however much they love one another, be married to each other. If the Supreme Court, or any other court or legislature decrees that two people of the same sex can marry each other, this decree is in violation of the natural law and of biological reality and cannot be said to be valid. Nor is restricting marriage to a man and a woman discriminating against the homosexual. The homosexual has precisely the same right as anyone else in this regard. He or she can marry any person of the opposite sex he or she desires. What they cannot do, or ought not to be able to do, is demand fundamental changes in the nature of one of the most basic institutions of human society.

Put this way then, Kim Davis is the one following the law. It is her opponents who are breaking the law. They threaten her with jail and cover her abuse, but they cannot appeal to justice or nature, only the might of the state to try to coerce us all into complying with their will.

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