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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Same-Sex Marriage in the States of Washington and Britain

Reporting on the objections of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church to David Cameron’s “contentious plan to legalize same-sex marriage” in the E.U. state of Britain, the New York Times unwittingly followed the European tendency to compare a state in the E.U. with the entire U.S. rather than to a state therein. “In some ways,” the Times contended, the debate in the E.U. state “mirrors arguments in the United States swirling around President Obama’s support for same-sex marriage.” Actually, Obama’s support was not at the time very relevant even in the U.S., as the “action” was occurring in particular states (as in the case of the E.U.).
On the of the Times’ report, the Huffington Post reported that the U.S. state of Washington would have a referendum on gay marriage on the ballot in November, 2012. In total, 247,331 Washingtonians signed the petition, passing the minimum of 120,577 needed. Gov. Chris Gregoire, David Cameron’s counterpart, had signed a bill into law the previous February legalizing same-sex marriage. Essentially, the referendum moved the matter from representative to direct democracy. Were a “one-size-fits-all” decision to be reached for the entire U.S., justices rather than an electorate would be the decision-makers. While possibly giving the rights of a minority a “leg up” on majority rule, moving the issue from the people of Washington to apply one decision on the U.S. as a whole was not a given at the time.

Therefore, to relate the thrashing out going on at the time in Britain (and France) to Obama’s campaign stance on the issue rather than to what was going on in the American republics evinces something more than just a category mistake (i.e., treating a state in the E.U. as equivalent to the entire U.S. rather than to a state therein). The dynamic at the level of the E.U. and U.S. is different than that which occurs in a state. Democracy being relatively fort (strong) at the state-level, the juridical protection of the rights of the individual may paradoxically be stronger at the empire-level. Iowa is a notable counter-example, however, on account of the action of the Iowa Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage. Perhaps it could be said that majority rule is stronger at the state level and thus more in balance with judicial decision. If so, the E.U. principle of subsidiarity and the U.S. principle of residual sovereignty (marriage being in the realm of the states’ sovereignty though equal protection being a relevant U.S.-level juridical principle) should not be relegated in a race to a central state at the empire-level. At the same time, the U.S. and E.U. need enough power to maintain themselves. Treating a state in the E.U. as if it were equivalent to the entire U.S. (i.e., essentially another E.U. within the E.U.) distorts or ignores these dynamics of federalism.


Alan Cowell, “ChurchesChallenge British Government Over Same-Sex Marriage,” The New York Times, June 12, 2012. 

Chris Gentiviso, “Referendum 74, Washington State Anti-GayMarriage Measure, Qualifies for Ballot,” The Huffington Post, June 12, 2012.