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Oklahoma's governor wrong on system basics

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up several cases about same-sex marriage. The justices let stand rulings that say states have no basis to deny marriage to gay couples.

Anyone who has followed the debate could predict what opponents would say in response. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin’s statement was typical:

“The will of the people has now been overridden by unelected federal justices, accountable to no one,” she wrote in a statement. “That is both undemocratic and a violation of states’ rights.”

In one sense, Fallin is correct: These decisions lessen the states’ ability to enact prejudicial policies. They recognize that our national Constitution should be interpreted to grant the most rights and freedoms to the most people, as long as others are not harmed. That sometimes leads to states having to dispose of biased rules.

Besides being on the wrong side of history, the governor gets some basics wrong about our political system.

The United States was not formed as a direct democracy. Individuals don’t get to vote on every decision made. The framers of our Constitution deliberately created a branch somewhat outside the fray of elections that could look after our basic rights. This forms the essence of our republic and helps protect minority and unpopular views.

That includes the expansion of rights to more and more people with ever-wider viewpoints. The men who wrote our Constitution would not, as products of their time, have approved of same-sex marriage. Many also thought slavery was acceptable and didn’t think women deserved to be part of the political process. As time moved forward, so did thinking about who needs protection from discrimination and who deserves full access to our civil life.

Deciding to allow something despite opposition from voters is not a sign of so-called judicial activists imposing their views. It shows our system — all three parts — working as intended to expand rights.

To say broadening liberty is undemocratic shows a failure to understand the greatness of our government’s design: It recognized that we needed an unelected branch.

It makes sense that elected officials would see people who have been through the campaign wringer as more worthy of wielding power. Fortunately, the founding document of our nation provides a firewall against that bias, and it’s found in Article III of the Constitution.

— The (Oklahoma City) Journal Record