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Gov. Rick Perry's Defense of States' Rights Forces the Question: Do We Have the Courage to be Free?


The more I hear people criticize Governor Rick Perry for saying New York’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage was “their business,” the more I want to put a “Perry 2012” bumper sticker on my car. And when that criticism continues, because he also said things like “that is fine with me” and “that is their call,” I actually wonder if we understand freedom at all.

Honestly folks, do we have the courage to be free?

After all, Perry is only saying what he’s been saying for years, and what Thomas Jefferson spelled out in the Kentucky Resolutions (1798). Namely, that states enjoy a sovereignty that allows them to make decisions apart from the federal government and apart from the consensus of other states.

Perry bases these statements on the Tenth Amendment, which clearly states: “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.” While this amendment does many things, one of the most important things it does is set clear limitations on the power of the federal government. It also demonstrates that our Founders believed every power not explicitly “delegated” to the federal government belongs to the states, “or to the people.”

Does Perry agree with same-sex “marriage”? Certainly not: which is why he supported an amendment to the Texas Constitution that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman in 2005. But Perry understands that just as Texas had every right to define and protect traditional marriage within their borders, so too other states have the right to foolishly undermine that same institution within theirs. (I think New York’s decision was stupid, but the expression of freedom doesn’t have to be smart in order to be legitimate.)

So please understand that admitting the Tenth Amendment gives a state such leeway is not the same thing as condoning the decisions that state makes. In other words, just as the First Amendment not only protects speech with which we agree, but also speech by which we are repulsed, so too the Tenth Amendment not only allows states to make decisions with which we agree but also decisions that turn our stomachs.

When Perry alluded to Texas seceding in April 2009, he did so in light of the Tenth Amendment and conservatives cheered. More recently, when he argued against Roe v. Wade by saying he thought abortion was a states’ right issue, they cheered again. But when he went all the way, demonstrating that his belief in the Tenth Amendment is more than skin deep by saying what he did about New York and adding, “You either have to believe in the 10th Amendment or you don’t,” the cheerleaders turned into hecklers.

I say it’s time we stop whatever it is we’re doing right now and ask ourselves a serious question – do we have the courage to be free?

It appears that Governor Rick Perry does, and I thank him for that.


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