Anyone who is familiar with the standard operating procedure of politicians (which is made all the more visible during election season) knows that a “good” politician, much like a “good” shyster, rarely, if ever, answers a question directly. Such was the case during the eleventh Republican presidential debate aired by Fox News on March 3rd, when Senator Ted Cruz echoed a popular conservative sentiment after he was asked if he believed a “gay couple should be able to adopt.” Here is part of the Texas Senator’s response,
Well, listen, adoption is decided at the state level and I am a believer in the 10th Amendment in the Constitution, I would leave the question of marriage to the states, I would leave the question of adoption to the states.
Although Cruz goes on to rightfully decry the gross overreach of the federal government in its attempt to redefine marriage during the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodge, he nonetheless fails to see that, in his response, he is creating the very same precedent that led to such a decision. At the same time, in true political fashion, and much like many of his fellow neo-conservatives, Cruz fails to admit whether he personally supports the issue in question; instead, he deflects and places the responsibility in the hands of the states. To use a Biblical image from the New Testament, Cruz washed his hands of the matter and relinquished a serious moral question to the will of the people. Those who rely upon democratic processes, including states’ rights, to resolve critical moral issues run the risk of stepping into the role of Pontius Pilate as he resigned the life of the Messiah to popular vote.
The response of delegating key moral issues to the authority of the states raises serious concerns.
States’ rights are generally considered a good, because they are an extension of the Catholic principle of subsidiarity. But they, like the federal government, nevertheless should not be considered the final authority. While local and federal governments are both obliged to promote good and combat evil, it appears Cruz may take for granted that states have rights to legislate on every issue. He and his followers might disagree with such a characterization, but if the legalization of homosexual adoption of children is not outside the authority of individual states, then one cannot possibly know what else is. One should seriously question the idea that states contain within themselves some innate right to weigh-in on every issue. Questions relating to the Natural Law should be considered outside the scope and competency of state legislatures, at least in a non-defensive sense. In other words, states only have the duty to defend the Natural Law, not make positive laws to destroy it.
For example, most reasonable people would agree that states should outlaw rape, while at the same time agree that they do not have the right to legalize murder. States have the duty to use their power to defend these moral concepts, but not to violate them. Yet this is not what Ted Cruz is saying, whether he believes it or not. Reading between the lines, his position is that states do have the right to not only place aspects of the Natural Law, as well as the Divine Law, up for debate, but that they can also claim the right to change or defy that law—as long as it is done under the sanction of the will of the people as expressed at the state level.
We should not seek to ascribe to states an authority to which they do not have a claim and that we the people also do not have the authority to give in the first place; one cannot give what one does not have.
The response Cruz offered also reveals a fatal flaw in the so-called democratic systems found in the United States and other parts of the world. The social teaching of the Catholic Church in regards to the role of government and societies has always promoted the idea that the state must subject itself to the Natural and Divine Law in promoting the good and suppressing evil. An example of this can be seen in the pornography epidemic. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 2354, condemns pornography as a grave offense and calls upon civil authorities to prevent its spread:
Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.
However, if Ted Cruz’s view of states’ rights is realized, then the suppression of such materials would be left up to the states. This gives the states the right to define moral truth by giving the people the ability to decide if they think porn is acceptable or not. Consequently, if state legislators are influenced by the porn industry or if they simply do not care, then pornography remains legal, the common good is undermined, while sin and the Devil gain a foothold in society. As it stands now in the United States, this scenario is the current will of the people as expressed in the states, and if Cruz’s response is to be followed, then the federal government cannot be expected to interfere because the will of the people is inviolable and apparently more sacred than that of God as expressed in His Church.
There are some who believe that leaving moral questions in the hands of the states is the most expedient and perhaps the only practical way of restoring morality under the current political climate; this view is especially held in regard to pro-life issues. We should note that abortion may not have gained such a legal foothold in the United States had legislators acknowledged that defining personhood was outside of their legislative competency in the first place. As history has shown, legislators in this nation made similar mistakes regarding the personhood of another portion of God’s children.
Yet to the point of the states being the best hope for the defense as well as the restoration of morals, a few considerations should be made, using the pro-life movement as the most poignant example. From the perspective of people at the grassroots, it may be true that working gradually within the states currently yields the most results for the defense of the unborn and as such it should continue to be pursued; but that alone should not in any way deter people of good will from seeking to use federal power wherever and whenever possible to defend life in the womb; on the contrary, if the opportunity is available, its use would appear to be obligatory. As those who seek to defend life in every stage, the pro-life movement should strive to use any and all means to defend life in our society, regardless if it is at the state level or the federal level. When the Church calls upon the governing authority to uphold morals, she does not distinguish between a federal or a local authority. She calls it to promote good and suppress evil—she certainly does not leave it up to the people to decide. If the personhood of the unborn is left solely to the discretion of the states, then the underlying problem still remains. Allowing we the people, whether directly or through those we elect, to vote on personhood is not only grossly inadequate when it comes to upholding the dictates of the Church, but it is also an attitude severely detrimental to the future and progress of the pro-life movement as a whole. This type of libertarian mindset, which allows individuals to define their own personal morality, is against the very heart of what it means to be pro-life, and its adoption would become a corrupting force within the pro-life world. To be pro-life means to acknowledge and defend that life objectively regardless of subjective circumstances (such as rape and incest, for example); but allowing one state to say that a child in the womb is not a person, while allowing another state to hold the opposite, would lead to relativistic chaos.
Would those who advocate leaving abortion up to the states also have advocated allowing the states to decide amongst themselves whether to allow slavery? It would appear that those who espouse such a mentality would keep the federal government entirely outside the discussion as if it had no responsibility to uphold morality or promote the common good. On the contrary, those who possess federal power have just as much an obligation to do all in their power to defend the unborn as those within states’ legislatures. So the question then arises, how would a president Ted Cruz defend life if states such as California or Vermont rejected his pro-life views. Would he simply accept their decision and consequently doom the unborn in other states to wait upon the churning wheels of democratic processes that may never surmount the constant struggle of good versus evil within the hearts of their fickle populations?
Rather than further contributing to the spread of personal morality and the scourge of moral relativism onto the realm of the states, it should be evident that what is needed is a change in the very ideas and principles of governance. Yet, in order to achieve such a change, a change in the mindset of individuals and communities must first be brought about to help people of good will understand that one of the primary functions of government is to uphold the Law of God and that of nature, even when doing so risks contradicting the will of the people.
Under the “We the People” system, the state caters to the subjective and relativistic will of the people who are given the right to choose if they wish to uphold God’s Law or defy it. Yet it would seem readily evident that due to the fallen nature of mankind, and in light of human history, we the people are all too ready to defy rather than to defend. Furthermore, one would be hard pressed to find—in the Bible or the Tradition and history of the Church—where God delegated the authority to define morals to the masses. On the contrary, it was to Peter, the head of His Church, that He gave the power of the keys, not to the majority. It was Pontius Pilate, not Christ, who delegated moral authority to the people when he washed his hands of the question of Truth and left it up to the Jews to choose between Christ or Barabbas.
Admittedly, Ted Cruz would likely seek to uphold some form of God’s Law, but he is still stuck in the mentality that the will of the people as expressed in the states is the ultimate societal authority, even over the authority of the Author of Human Societies, namely God. This position is strikingly similar to those who claim to adhere to certain moral principles, yet also say they would never seek to advance their views through political means for fear of imposing their beliefs upon others. Ted Cruz is most likely against homosexual adoption, but as president it is unlikely that he will choose to protect poor children with the excuse of forcing his personal morals upon the will of the states.