Sunday, July 07, 2013

My Sunday Feeling

My young neighbor to the West of me was mowing his lawn when he saw me leave the house yesterday.  He cut it off and motioned me over.  After talking about what all we had done for the 4th of July, he asked me if he could ask me a legal question.  He is a surgical resident.  I bug him all the time with medical questions.  Fair is fair.

"Sure," I said. "What's on your mind?"

"I don't quite know how to put this," he said.  "I know I will say this wrong.

M is a thoughtful kind of guy.  And he doesn't like to be imprecise in his language.

"Tell me," he said.  "What do you think about the recent Supreme Court decisions?"

"Which ones?"

"About gay marriage.  Can you just explain this to me?"

It is safe to say that M is a conservative kind of guy.  He is a Southern Baptist from Texas.  But, like I said earlier, M is also a very thoughtful guy.  He is fair minded and never argumentative.  And so when we have these talks I try to keep my personal opinions out of it.  Just to give him the state of the law as I would if he were sitting in my law office.  If I had a law office.

I told him that while I hadn't followed it as closely as I might but that the provision of the Defense of Marriage Act that barred same sex married couples from availing themselves of certain federal benefits like survivor's benefits, the right to file joint tax returns, to be covered under federal health care benefits in states that had legalized gay marriage was unconstitutional.  I told him that the Proposition 8 case involving California's gay marriage statute was thrown out due to a lack of standing to sue.  In other words, that the wrong parties had brought the suit.  And that's about all I know.

"Do you think that's right?" he asked.

"It doesn't matter what either of us think."

"It seems like this is a trend."

"I think that you are right. And I don't have a problem with it."

"You know?" he said. " Didn't state government have more power that the federal government at one time?"

"Still does in some areas.  For example, the state of Arkansas regulates both our professions.  The feds don't.  The feds regulate Medicare because its a federal program.  But it block grants Medicare money to the states to run.  There are federal regs but the states run it."

"That's true."

"Here's another story.  When I was at Tulane the legal age to buy alcohol was 18.  The federal Department of Transportation told the Governor that Louisiana needed to change the law.  Louisiana told Uncle to stick it."

"What happened?"

"Uncle told Louisiana that they could keep the legal age at 18 if they wanted to, it just wouldn't get any more federal highway money.  The law changed practically overnight.  People hate the government until they need the government."

"You're right. The money always comes with strings attached."

"Always.  But ya know, Americans have argued over the proper scope of federal power versus state's rights from the time  Alexander Hamilton floated war bonds to fund the army and suggested the creation of a National bank to Obamacare.  This has been a part of the national conversation since the Declaration of Independence.  And I think it's pretty cool that a couple of guys can stand in the yard and have a pleasant, respectful conversation about this stuff."

"You're right," he said.  "That is pretty cool."

He returned to mowing and I set out about my errands.

I always enjoy our talks.  I tell him the state of the law as I understand it.  He tells me why he either likes or dislikes what I told him.  Nobody tries to change the mind of the other.  Our talks are completely free of rancor and are conducted with the volume turned way down.

I think that's pretty special in this present age of angry sound bites, spin and making stuff up.

Imagine that.  A mutually respectful conversation about America a couple of days after Independence Day.  Why, that's damn near patriotic!

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