The idea of “states’ rights” is most often associated with ultra-right positions: those seeking states’ control of abortion and discrimination laws. During a period in which the federal government was an effective protector of human rights and liberties, this made sense. But what happens when it is the states who are protecting liberties, and the federal government attempting to remove them?
The states on the West Coast–and especially California and Oregon–have found themselves in the position of trying to provide more rights to their citizens than the federal government is willing to cede. This comes up again over the issue of the Census Bureau planning on “editing out” responses on the census from married gay and lesbian couples, reclassifying them as unmarried, and their children as bastards, to use a quaint term. The Orwellian “Defense of Marriage Act” (defending marriages by officially ignoring them?) forces them to unrecognize true responses from legally married couples in the State of California, and replace them with false answers.
Of course, this is icing on the cake, after federal authorities have arrested people for buying doctor prescribed marijuana and have attempted to stop doctors from ending their patient’s lives (right to death). I hate to think of what “states rights” would mean for those who are living in backward states, but at some point you have to say “we’re not going down the tubes with the rest of the country.”
There were hints of states’ rights motifs in Dean’s campaign, particularly relating to gun control. Maybe it’s time to bring this up again in the election. Obama, who opposed the Defense of Marriage Act, does not support gay marriage, per se, but does support the state’s choice to legalize if they like. Likewise, he’s said that he does not favor legalizing marijuana, but does not think chasing legal users of marijuana for medical reasons is a good use of Department of Justice resources. On these issues, at least, it looks like the Democratic party may be plotting a path that sees states as more important in the legislative process than they have been in the past.