Yesterday on Philly.com, columnist Stu Bykofsky decided to weigh in on Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes’ decision to issue the Commonwealth’s first same-sex marriage licenses, and in doing so, he took the classical institutionalist approach, which places faith in our legislative system. In his article, Bykofsky makes the argument that Hanes holds an elected row-office; therefore he has no authority to make this decision. According to Bykofsky, Hanes’ actions will set precedents for other “dudes” around the country to disregard laws that they don’t agree with. What he fails to mention, is the that Hanes’ morally civil disobedient actions bypasses the bigotry and stalemating currently present in the Pennsylvania House and the benefits this deed can have on thousands of Commonwealth residents.
Bykofsky opened up his article with a quote from Bruce Hanes, which stated “I decided to come down on the right side of history and the law,” and then proceeded to focus on the words “I decided.” Bykofsky counters with the fact that the United States Supreme Court punted on the DOMA issue by making same-sex marriage a “state’s rights” issue, which means there was no legal ground for Mr. Hanes’ to grant the marriage licenses. In doing so, Bykofsky cites Bruce Castor’s – the man who claims he’s more “conservative” than Tom Corbett – legal advice that he gave to Mr. Hanes. That advice stated: “he should have refused to issue the license and made a public statement that he agreed with the couple applying, and invite them to sue him.”
By the end of the article, Mr. Bykofsky wanted to give his readership a “Civics 101” lesson on how things should work in a perfect world. He stated:
Civics 101: The people elect representative who write the laws which are enforced by the state and, if necessary, confirmed by the courts.
Each arm has its role and grand-standing public officials should not short-circuit the process.
If Hanes wants to support his views, I’d suggest he devote one or two nights a week (his own time, not county time) to meeting with Pennsylvanians to bring them to his cause and, in the final analysis, to welcome a court challenge. That’s how the system works, and works best.
If you like what Hanes says he wants to do, just remember it sets a precedent for some future dude to ignore some law that you do like.
Besides the fact that Stu Bykofsky believes that Jeff Bridges look alikes will spawn into municipal offices and county courthouses across the country and decide to enforce the laws de jour, Mr. Bykofsky took the institutionalist approach by putting his complete faith into the legislative process without actually looking into some possible – and justifiable – reasons as to why Mr. Hanes took the actions he did (Hint: It has to do with our “various elected bodies”).
By issuing marriage licenses to five same-sex couples today, Bruce Hanes used his authority as a civil servant to commit a simple, yet powerful, act of civil disobedience. His proactive act of civil disobedience reframed Bruce Castor’s argument from forcing these couples to prove to the state why they should be able to marry to forcing the state to prove why these couples shouldn’t be able to marry. Hanes’s act of defiance also implicates State Representative Daryl Metcalfe – head of the State Government Committee – and other conservatives who think that it is OK to use “God’s law” to treat members of the LGBTQ community as second class citizens.
As the head of the State Government Committee, Representative Metcalfe controls which LGBTQ legislation makes it out of committee and he has a long bigoted history aimed at the LGBTQ community and at Brian Sims (D) – one of Pennsylvania’s two first openly gay elected representatives. Currently, Metcalfe is killing legislation that would establish workplace protection for members of the LGBTQ community and will most likely kill Brian Sims’s marriage equality bill. Being the good Christian, Metcalfe is pushing legislation that would constitutionally ban same-sex marriage. On the day that Brian Sims introduced anti-discrimination laws, Representative Metcalfe met Sims with his own
middle finger rebuttal, legislation that would amend the constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Metcalfe defended his legislation saying “the definition of marriage as ‘the union of one man and one woman,’ defended and upheld by this legislation, is the traditional definition of marriage that has been recognized and accepted throughout history and the world for centuries.” Then went on to criticize Sims’ legislations saying “I think it’s shocking that people want to force government to recognize through policy their sexual desires and put it into law.” On the day DOMA was overturned by the Supreme Court, Representative Metcalfe was responsible for denying Brian Sims the opportunity to speak on the Courts ruling on the House floor, and after the fact Representative Metcalfe used “God’s law” as the reason for denying a gay representative speaking on one of the largest gay right’s issues.
When “various elected bodies” pass laws that run counter to our State or Federal Constitution, or when one majority political party seeks to suppress the rights of the minority, Americans have found ways to stand firm on Constitutional, civil, and human rights to ensure that we continue the work of forming a more perfect union. When Jim Crow laws reigned in many parts of our country, people said “no.” Yes, there were legislators who were working within the system to change. But there were also the Rosa Parks’s who refused to wait. Together tens of thousands of acts of civil disobedience – some celebrated, some lost to history – helped give us Brown v. Board of Education and cast Plessy into the dustbin. When a civil servant like Hanes makes good on an oath he took upon taking office to uphold the Constitution – we should not belittle their actions through clever word games as Bykofsky seems to favor. We should thank him.
When the “various elected bodies” and individual officials we elect choose to kill an argument before it begins, scenes witnessed in state capitols in Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Florida will be repeated, and people like Bruce Hanes will insert themselves into history, to change it for the better. When our governments push the people to that breaking point, maybe it’s time our elected officials realize that civics is a two-way street.