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EDITORIAL

The lesson from Roe v. Wade we refuse to learn

Monday, February 4, 2013 - 8:47 am

It's better for decisions to bubble up than to be handed down.

The Indiana General Assembly has before it a proposal to put a same-sex marriage ban into the state constitution. The proposal has already been approved in one legislative session, and if it flies in this one it will go before voters in a referendum.

But we already have a state law on the ban, so the amendment isn’t needed, and, furthermore, it might drive away businesses hoping to attract valuable gay employees. There have been a number of protests along those lines, including a symbolic “wedding” ceremony for 13 same-sex couples presided over by the mayor of Bloomington last week.

Isn’t this a marvelous exercise in democracy, all Hoosiers thrashing around in search of consensus that will govern how we behave in this state? Well, it could be, but it isn’t.

It’s beginning to look like Republicans, even though they have supermajorities in both the House and Senate, are having second thoughts about introducing the proposal this year and may wait till the final deadline year of 2014. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule later this year on a couple of gay marriage cases it agreed to consider, and legislators want to see how its rulings might affect our proposals.

And that is exactly backward.

In our federalist system, it is better for change to bubble up than for it to be handed down. States experiment in their “laboratories of democracy,” then other states can study the results and decide if they want to follow the example. Gradually a consensus is reached nationwide that might or might not call for federal law to take notice.

Such an evolution is important especially for the so-called social issues, because they involve people’s most deeply held values rather than their momentary pragmatic feelings. Abrupt and arbitrary changes can result in nothing but bitterness and division.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the most egregious federal mandate for abrupt and arbitrary change in our history. It surely is in the top five of horrible Supreme Court decisions, and there are good arguments for it being the worst.

On the contentious issue of abortion, change was beginning to evolve as state legislatures around the country debated the issue. The court’s sudden dictate that abortion was not only legal, but a fundamental right, stopped that debate in its tracks, and abortion remains to this day the most bitterly divisive issue in the nation.

There could have been a valuable less in that for us. But we seem reluctant to learn it, don’t we?