Senator Salmon

The Problem With Anti-Marriage Equality Politicians

The past couple of weeks have seen a lot of conversation about marriage equality. Between SCOTUS hearing arguments on DOMA and Prop 8, and Republican Senator Rob Portman coming out in favor of marriage equality in support of his son, there’s a lot of hope coursing through the veins of advocates across the country. And then there are stories like this one, that make your heart ache for humanity:

Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) says that having a gay son has not swayed his views on the marriage issue and that he still opposes marriage equality, reported last week.

Salmon, a staunch social conservative, expressed love and respect for his son during an interview with 3TV in Arizona but said that he is “not there as far as believing in my heart” that marriage should be available to same-sex couples.

So here’s the deal. We can talk about the importance of changing hearts and minds one at at time and one day at a time. We can talk about Rep. Salmon being one of those hearts we need to change. But I’m angry, and it’s not because I disagree with him on this issue. I’m angry because of the decision making framework he’s using to evaluate legal matters.

Let’s revisit his statement, shall we? When giving a reason for why he won’t support marriage equality:

…not there as far as believing in my heart…

That’s sweet, and sentimental, and human. EXCEPT IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH UPHOLDING THE CONSTITUTION, WHICH IS WHAT YOUR DAMN JOB IS. As a reminder, this is the oath taken when being sworn into office:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

See anything in there about heart? Or personal religious affiliation? No? I didn’t think so. Following your heart is great in terms of personal decisions, but when you’re on the job in politics, your decision making calculus is different. Period. You swore an oath to that end.

In other words, I’m fine with you holding your own personal beliefs. I mean, really, I’m not fine with it if your personal beliefs are that certain human beings are inherently less valuable than others, but I recognize that it is your right to hold such oppressive beliefs dear. What I am not fine with is you opposing marriage equality based on your personal beliefs, because the same laws that allow you the right to hold those beliefs protect the rest of us from you forcing them upon us.

So if you cannot provide a sound legal argument for why marriage equality should not exist, I don’t want to hear it. And if you’re a legislator who cannot provide a sound legal argument for opposing marriage equality, then you’re doing it wrong, and you don’t deserve the office you hold.



  1. Thank you! This is exactly what I was trying to get across to people who disagreed with me last week when I got Freshly Pressed for a post about marriage equality. It’s not about love or morality or whatever the hell else people want to make it about. If you don’t have a sound legal argument, you don’t have a case and I don’t want to hear it!

  2. Although even if a legislator were able to provide sound legal argument of which there is none, I think the general consensus is that marriage equality is okay and legislators have to sway their opinions a bit despite their own personal beliefs.

    1. Three considerations.

      A. The 10th Amendment dictates any national ban or failure to recognize same-sex unions granted by the states (read: DOMA) would be an infringement of states rights. Text:

      The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

      B. The First Amendment indicates that states may still not pass laws which infringe upon free practice of religion. The text:

      Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

      The court has repeatedly held that the government may not force a set of religious beliefs onto the population (see: McCollum v. Board of Education, Engel v. Vitale, Abington School District v. Schempp). In Lemon v. Kurtzman, a 3-pronged test was developed to determine whether a policy violated the Establishment Clause.

      1) the government action must have a secular purpose;
      2) its primary purpose must not be to inhibit or to advance religion;
      3) there must be no excessive entanglement between government and religion.

      Opposition to marriage equality on the basis of “tradition” or “faith” fails to pass this test (particularly parts 1 and 2).

      C. The 14th Amendment indicates that the States may not pass laws which limit access to privileges granted by the state. In this instance, and in light of exclusion of religious justification, there is zero legal ground for limiting access to what amounts to a legal partnership on the basis of gender. Amendment text:

      All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

      So yes. You did miss that one.

      1. This tells me that the States have their own set of rights governing same-sex marriage (DOMA). The constitution does not take a stance directly. Some states have already passed laws concerning same-sex marriage, and Texas (my state) still sees it as unlawful. I’m curious on how it will play out in the California Supreme Court. Thanks for that Constitutional lesson.

      2. To be clear, DOMA is a federal law; the case in front of SCOTUS right now argues it is unconstitutional for a variety of reasons. In California, Prop 8 was deemed unconstitutional by the courts, which is why it was escalated to SCOTUS. SCOTUS, from reports I’ve read, thinks the case has issues with standing, which essentially allows the California ruling to remain (legalizing SSM in Cali), but not impacting other states. While I understand that other states have passed laws prohibiting SSM, that doesn’t mean those laws are constitutional. There’s a chance SCOTUS issues a ruling on the matter, but it’s a slim one, by all accounts… and even if they did, the rather tenuous balance on the courts provides us nothing but uncertainty for the time being.

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