Eliminate Federal Court Jurisdiction
by Rep. Ron Paul, MD <http://www.house.gov/paul/mail/welcome.htm>
by Rep. Ron Paul, MD
The President's recent announcement that he supports a constitutional
amendment defining marriage has intensified the gay marriage debate. It
seems sad that we need government to define and regulate our most basic
Marriage is first and foremost a religious matter, not a government
matter. Government is not moral and cannot make us moral. Law should
reflect moral standards, of course, but morality comes from religion,
from philosophy, from societal standards, from families, and from
responsible individuals. We make a mistake when we look to government
for moral leadership.
Marriage and divorce laws have always been crafted by states. In an
ideal world, state governments enforce marriage contracts and settle
divorces, but otherwise stay out of marriage. The federal government,
granted only limited, enumerated powers in the Constitution, has no role
However, many Americans understandably fear that if gay marriage is
legalized in one state, all other states will be forced to accept such
marriages. They argue that the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the
Constitution essentially federalizes the issue; hence a constitutional
amendment is necessary.
But the Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996, explicitly authorizes
states to refuse to recognize gay marriages performed in other states.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court repeatedly has interpreted the Full Faith
and Credit clause to allow Congress to limit the effect of state laws on
other states. In fact, federal courts almost universally apply the
clause only to state court judgments, not statutes. So a constitutional
amendment is not necessary to address the issue of gay marriage, and
will only drive yet another nail into the coffin of federalism. If we
turn regulation of even domestic family relations over to the federal
government, presumably anything can be federalized.
The choices are not limited to either banning gay marriage at the
federal level, or giving up and accepting it as inevitable. A far better
approach, rarely discussed, is for Congress to exercise its existing
constitutional power to limit the jurisdiction of federal courts.
Congress could statutorily remove whole issues like gay marriage from
the federal judiciary, striking a blow against judicial tyranny and
restoring some degree of states' rights. We seem to have forgotten that
the Supreme Court is supreme only over lower federal courts; it is not
supreme over the other branches of government. The judiciary is co-equal
under our federal system, but too often it serves as an unelected,
It is great comedy to hear the secular, pro-gay left, so hostile to
states' rights in virtually every instance, suddenly discover the
tyranny of centralized government. The newly minted protectors of local
rule find themselves demanding: "Why should Washington dictate marriage
standards for Massachusetts and California? Let the people of those
states decide for themselves." This is precisely the argument
conservatives and libertarians have been making for decades! Why should
Washington dictate education, abortion, environment, and labor rules to
the states? The American people hold widely diverse views on virtually
all political matters, and the Founders wanted the various state
governments to most accurately reflect those views. This is the
significance of the 10th Amendment, which the left in particular has
abused for decades.
Social problems cannot be solved by constitutional amendments or
government edicts. Nationalizing marriage laws will only grant more
power over our lives to the federal government, even if for supposedly
conservative ends. Throughout the 20th century, the relentless
federalization of state law served the interests of the cultural left,
and we should not kid ourselves that the same practice now can save
freedom and morality. True conservatives and libertarians should
understand that the solution to our moral and cultural decline does not
lie in a strong centralized government.
March 2, 2004
Dr. Ron Paul is a Republican member of Congress from Texas.