Jay’s Treaty

The other day, the Obama administration released a statement concerning DOMA…restating its goal to having the unjust law repealed though at the same time defending the Justice Department’s actions of defending the law in court.  This has been a huge controversy over the past several weeks and months…and the new statement doesn’t really ease matters a whole lot.  But let’s break all of this down and give it some other context while we are at it.

DOMA (The Defense of Marriage Act) is a federal law…passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton…and though we and the current administration see it as an unjust law that needs to be repealed, it is not the duty of the Obama administration to ignore the law that is currently on the books.  It does not have the authority or the right to pick and choose which laws its going to obey and uphold and which ones its not…despite how much we’d like that to happen.

Just think back to the Bush years for this.  It was Vice-President Cheney telling Bush that he was above the law, that we didn’t have to obey the Geneva Conventions on torture and the treatment of prisoners and that they didn’t need warrants to tap our communications (which is a direct violation of our founding laws).  And we rose up in anger against the administration…and our chief argument if you think back was that the administration didn’t have the right to pick and choose which laws it obeyed and which it didn’t….that the President and everyone in government has to obey all the laws (no matter how they felt by them) just like us ordinary citizens.

Now before getting too much further into this, let me make one thing crystal clear.  I am firmly and unequivocally against DOMA and believe that it needs to be repealed.  But even with my own opinion, I’m still approaching the current actions with objectivity and rationality.

In the very early days of our nation we signed a treaty with Great Britain that we know today as Jay’s Treaty.  This treaty was not seen in very good light by the citizenry and though it eventually did pass the Senate and thus go into effect, there was still a very sharp divide.  And the biggest divide of all came between President Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  Recently, I’ve been reading the book “Founding Brothers” and a paragraph that I just read kind of takes that debate and puts it into context with the DOMA debate that we are discussing now.

“From Washington’s perspective, the republic established by the Constitution created a government of laws that must be obeyed once the duly elected representatives had reached a decision.  That was why he had acted so decisively to put down the Whiskey Rebellion and why he expected compliance with Jay’s Treaty once its terms were approved by the Congress.  From Jefferson’s perspective, on the other hand, all laws and treaties that reined in the liberating impulses of the Revolution were illegitimate.  That was why he regarded the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion as reprehensible… As for Jay’s Treaty, who in his right mind would countenance the acceptance of neocolonial status within the hated British Empire?  Not obeying, but rather violating such unjust laws and treaties was the obligation of every citizen.”

Founding Brothers

Joseph Ellis

By Jefferson’s definition, the citizens had the right to violate Jay’s Treaty…and any other law they deemed unjust.  In all honesty, Jefferson, though a very bright man, was insinuating mass chaos with this.  If everyone had the right to deem laws unjust and violate them, what would be the point of having any to start with?  I don’t think the police officer that pulls you over for speeding is going to accept the excuse that he cannot issue you a ticket simply because you deem that law as unjust and therefore don’t have to obey it.  It doesn’t really work that way.  We have a system of laws in place for a reason….to keep order where chaos would ensue without them or if left to each individuals’ interpretation and compliance.

The Obama administration has no choice but to defend every law that is on the books…no matter how wrong or unjust they are.  But that doesn’t mean that he’s not willing to work with us to help get DOMA repealed, so that no administration can defend it ever again.  But he cannot do this alone…and we seem to put everything on his shoulders alone.  This will take an act of Congress to get DOMA repealed.  So, in my personal opinion, we shouldn’t be ready to burn President Obama in effigy simply because the Justice Department has to defend a law that is harmful to a certain group of citizens (of which, I am a part of that group of citizens) but rather working with him and the members of Congress to get it repealed faster.    We should be persistent with them all…not just on the President because it will take more than just him to get this done.  Congress deserves a lot of pressure on this…and more-so on the Senators as the big debate will come in the Senate.

So think about all of this for a moment.  No one (not even the President of the United States) is above the law.  This is something that even President George Washington knew.  If we don’t agree with it, then we have the right in our nation to petition and lobby our elected leaders to reverse it.  However, in the meantime, the government has that obligation and duty to uphold that said law as it is written in the books.  And it would be very hypocritical of us to tell one administration (the Bush administration) that they cannot pick and choose which laws they obey while we tell the next administration (the Obama administration) that they can when it comes to this.

So be persistent in writing or talking to your elected leaders in Congress.  Let them know where you stand on the issue directly.  It doesn’t hurt to even send a communication to the President, as well.  Make sure to explain your reasons why this law needs to be repealed expeditiously, too.  But also remember, before you go ranting about the administration defending the law in court, that they really have no choice in doing so.  It is the law at the moment…until we get Congress to move their lazy asses on this issue and get it repealed once and for all.

George Washington had it right in the end…and thus that should give us pause and room for thought on how to proceed and the arguments to be made.

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