Last week, U.S. District Judge, Terrence Kern overturned the State of Oklahoma’s definition of marriage and said the following, “Equal protection is at the very heart of our legal system…Therefore, the majority view in Oklahoma must give way to individual constitutional rights.” Our governor, Mary Fallin, responded. “In 2004,” she said, “the people of Oklahoma voted to amend the state’s constitution to define marriage as ‘the union of one man and one woman.’ That amendment passed with 75 percent support. The people of Oklahoma have spoken on this issue. I support the right of Oklahoma’s voters to govern themselves on this and other policy matters. I am disappointed in the judge’s ruling and troubled that the will of the people has once again been ignored by the federal government.”
There is a dramatic difference between these two statements. On one hand, the judge tells us what he believes. It has soul and conviction. The judge makes it clear that he deems some ideas, such as “majority rule,” to be inferior to other ideas such as “equal protection.” He distinguishes between those values he believes to be inferior and those he holds as higher, more enduring, right and true. On the other hand, the governor’s statement is lacking. It seems to be little more than a regurgitation of the majority vote and a reiteration of public opinion. It follows rather than leads. It lacks personal conviction and heart. Where the judge seems unashamed of his moral assumptions, the Governor seems uninspiring in clarifying hers.
Some have said to me that I should rest easy: “The governor was elected to govern not to preach. She is a politician not a pastor,” they say. While, I agree with the jot and tittle of this nomenclature, I would still, personally, like to know what our leaders believe. I know the judge’s soul; he has shared it openly and though I may disagree with his conclusions, I can fully appreciate his convictions. I would like to know the same of our governor.
What does our State’s foremost leader believe? Does she believe marriage is, first and foremost, a “governmental benefit,” as stated by Judge Kern, or does she believe it is a sacrament of the Church? Does she believe in natural law, and if so; does it have any bearing on this debate? Does she agree with Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s contention that “just laws” must, first, “square” with the “eternal laws” of God? Does our governor agree with Thomas Jefferson who, in the Declaration of Independence, contends that truth is “endowed to us by our Creator” and not constructed by consensus or king? Does Governor Fallin think the concept of marriage, and its presumed chosen behaviors, is a moral discussion? Does she understand that moral discussions have always been guided by a culture’s religious presuppositions? Does our governor believe that the 1st Amendment guarantees the rights of all Americans to practice such religious presuppositions accordingly? Does our Governor believe the majority vote of the “people of Oklahoma” should always prevail? If so, what if the “people of Oklahoma” voted in favor of polygamous marriage? Incestuous marriage? Polyamorous marriage? Would she support the “right of the voters of Oklahoma to govern themselves” in such cases or would she try to lead us in a different direction; toward values and virtues higher, more noble, more enduring, and in, her opinion, better, right and true?
I don’t disagree with Governor Fallin’s conclusion – I am glad she is “disappointed” in Judge Kerns’ ruling – but I am disturbed with what seems to be a missed opportunity to share her convictions. She is the leader of our state. What does she believe? What is in her heart? Here was an chance to lead and the best she, or her writers, could muster up was: “the people of Oklahoma voted…” The United States of America is a constitutional republic. A republic presumes that people in leadership have the temerity to tell us where their conscience will take us if we choose to follow them. Leaders don’t simply defer to the will of the masses. They inspire the public with their heart and passion. We see these things in the Judge’s statement but they are anemic and pallid at best in our governor’s.
These are culturally defining moments. These are “times that try men’s souls” and at such times we need leaders with conviction and candor. We need to know what they think and what they hold dear. We need them to use their bully pulpit (frankly, as Judge Kern so eagerly chooses to use his) and “preach” a bit. We need inspiring and ennobling prose not soulless platitudes that merely parrot what we already know from the polls. We need leaders to tell us what they believe and why, so we can decide amongst ourselves whether or not we should follow them.
“How can we judge fairly of the characters and merits of men…unless we…see, with their eyes and reason, and decide on their premises?” William Wilberforce
Footnote: In case you’ve missed it, the point of this essay is really not Governor Fallin. My guess is that she would likely answer positively to all of the rhetorical questions above. My angst is directed more broadly toward conservatives and their handlers who have been cowed into insipid rhetoric that fails to awaken the soul and inspire the heart.