New Castle News

Editorials

April 4, 2013

Our Opinion: Court should rule narrowly in two key cases

NEW CASTLE — After the U.S. Supreme Court heard two major gay marriage cases last week, legal analysts reached a conclusion.

Generally, they believe any rulings from the court will be narrow, and that the nation’s ongoing debate over gay marriage will proceed.

And that’s the way it should be. Right now, there is a vigorous political discussion occurring across this country on the subject of gay marriage. We think Americans are coming to some constructive conclusions.

In this climate, the courts should avoid intervening and let the debate proceed.

We say that for one very simple reason: This is a complicated issue, and we believe more and more Americans come to appreciate that fact as they consider different perspectives. National consensus, or at least some level of mutual understanding, needs to be a goal.

A major court decision, by contrast, ends debate — no matter which way it goes.

The Supreme Court will have to look at the specifics of the two cases before them, which are quite different. The first involves California law, where voters — via Proposition 8 — overturned a state Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage. At issue is whether voters have that authority.

Justices wrestled with various aspects of this cases, including whether or not they could come to any conclusion that would be limited to just California.

The way we see it, this is an issue for Californians and their political and legal systems to decide. California has a vibrant referendum system, and voters ought to have their say. It’s possible another referendum on the matter would reverse the action of Proposition 8.

The second case before the high court last week involved the federal Defense of Marriage Act. This is a measure passed during the Clinton administration that’s obviously intended to interfere with state laws allowing gay marriage.

The effect of the Defense of Marriage Act is to allow federal officials to deny federal benefits to gay couples, even if they have legal marital status in their states.

Based on comments made by justices last week, they appear to be prepared to declare this law unconstitutional — and rightly so. Marriage has always been a state matter; the subject isn’t even mentioned in the Constitution. The Defense of Marriage Act is political meddling without merit.

But in the broader view, America must come to terms with the issues raised in the gay marriage debate. While marriage is a deep spiritual matter for many people and their churches, from government’s perspective, the goal of marriage is social stability.

Under the law, marriage is a contract, a merger of sorts, that provides legal and financial benefits. That’s true regardless of sexual orientation, and a matter the law must find a way to respect.

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