Demeaning Tennesseans and Destroying the Constitution

Has anyone ever called you “irrational,” “unreasonable,” or “illogical” in front of others?  If not, imagine they have. How would you feel? Disrespected? Demeaned? If so, then a majority of Tennesseans should feel that way because a federal judge essentially said that about us last week.  Sadly, he didn’t realize how illogical and unreasonable his own statement was.  And because he is not alone in his thinking, we are in deep trouble.

The person in question is federal district court Judge John Heyburn who ruled last week that Kentucky’s law defining marriage as one man and one woman was unconstitutional.  The reason you, as a Tennessean, should care, is that what he said is as equally directed at Tennesseans as to Kentuckians.  That is so because our law is essentially the same as Kentucky’s; secondly, and most important, because his ruling was based upon the U.S. Constitution, the law of the land.

The judge began his analysis by stating that a law defining marriage as between one man and one woman can be constitutional only if that law has a “legitimate purpose” and “the means chosen to effectuate [that] purpose” are “rationally” related to that purpose.

The asserted purpose or objective of the law was to promote and encourage “responsible procreation and childrearing, steering naturally procreative relationships into stable unions, [and] promoting the optimal childrearing environment.” And it was believed that a law defining marriage as between a man and a woman was a reasonable way to accomplish those purposes.

Why you are unreasonable and illogical

According to Judge Heyburn, there is no “rational basis” for thinking these interests are legitimate. And even if those purposes or objectives were legitimate ones for a state to have, Judge Heyburn said no reasonable person could believe that those objectives could be furthered by defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman.

In other words, if you were one of the 81% of Tennessee voters who approved our constitutional definition of marriage or one of the 64% of Tennesseans who, in a poll released last week, said they still think marriage is between a man and a woman, then Judge Heyburn does not believe you are a reasonable person, capable of rational thought.

Being Unreasonable Isn’t the Biggest Problem

No one likes to be thought of being unreasonable or unable to rationally think about something. But what really bothers me is the constitutional rationale the judge asserted for striking down the law. And it’s particularly troublesome since he borrowed from the U.S. Supreme Court.

The rationale?  A law may be unconstitutional if it is demeaning to someone or some class of people.  In this case, part of the judge’s constitutional argument was that defining marriage as between a man and a woman is unconstitutional because it treats homosexuals “in a way that demeans them.”

I don’t want to demean anyone, but that a law might make some person feel “demeaned” cannot be a basis for a law’s constitutionality.

The Judge’s Ruling Is Itself Unconstitutional

According to Webster’s Dictionary, to demean someone is “to lower in character, status, or reputation.” Well, by that definition, is it not demeaning to publicly call a whole class of people – those who believe marriage is between a man and a woman – unreasonable and incapable of drawing a rational relationship between what a law does and its objective? If so, then Judge Heyburn’s ruling is itself unconstitutional.

If we pause to think for a moment — which I understand is demeaning to those who don’t like to pause long enough to think — what law does not demean or have the potential to demean another person or group of persons, based upon their subjective sensibilities and value system?

Are Any Laws Constitutional?

So how do we apply this new constitutional principle to other laws?  Don’t laws against murder or theft tend to cause those who commit those acts to think they are viewed by many in society as “lower in character, status, or reputation?” And, in fact, many in society do think of them in that way. Could not laws against bestiality and pedophilia do the same thing?

Truly demeaning someone is not nice, but we must confess that all moral judgments – and we all make them– can result in another person feeling demeaned.  For example, some people who are reading this will make a moral judgment about me, and I could easily view their judgment about me as demeaning.

When the constitutionality of a law makes a person to whom it applies feel demeaned, then I’m not sure any laws can reasonably be found constitutional.   And when that is our rule of law, then we are in deep trouble.