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Editorial: Clarence Thomas's paradoxical dissent

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JUNE 30, 2015 5:00 AM

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The U.S. Supreme Court made history with its decision to legalize same-sex marriage in every state. However, this landmark decision was far from unanimous, with opposition coming in a variety of forms and ideologies.

Some resistance to this display of unilateral equality stems from a fixation on the antiquated parameters of the marriage institution. However, Justice Clarence Thomas made an interesting, albeit easily misconstrued, case against his fellow Supreme Court justices’ decision in his dissent.

Thomas grappled with the lofty notions of liberty, dignity, and the responsibility of the Supreme Court as an interpreter of the Constitution. His arguments can be hard to follow at times and isolating individual statements such as “Human dignity cannot be taken away by the government,” “Slaves did not lose their dignity,” and “those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity” would lead to a biased view of his dissent as a whole.

The most important idea that can be taken away from Thomas’ musings is the notion of an intangible line separating the intrinsic notions of self-worth and identity from the framework of legislation those concepts are confined to in order to fit the social contract.

In an ideal democracy, the government would serve merely as an executor of a social contract crafted to fit the needs and necessary sacrifices mandated by the will of the population. In today’s society, we see our direct involvement in the legislative process as limited to voting and donating funds. The government has become an entity altogether separate from the constituents it was created to serve.

We now have a beastly bureaucracy that should, in theory, be an extension of the population’s wishes, wielding the power to arbitrarily strip and bestow basic human rights as it sees fit. Thomas speaks of an inalienable and intrinsic notion of liberty and dignity that should exist outside of what is written by humans on pieces of paper, but if this were the case, then how is it that institutions exist that have the ability to imprison and persecute us? 

Thomas stated that our government lacks the ability to take away dignity, and in a sense, he is correct. A democratic republic that is defined as a separate entity from the population it represents does not have the power to take away or bestow dignity, liberty, or any other inalienable right. It is made up of people. When we are imprisoned, persecuted, and denied basic freedoms, it is at the hands of our fellow man in the form of a conglomerate institution.

This country is not ruled by a faceless monolith. It is ruled by human beings.

The Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage can certainly be considered a victory, but the question is: a victory over whom? If we as human beings have rights that cannot be taken away and live in countries ruled by other human beings who have rights that cannot be taken away, how is it that persecution and inequality can become systemic?

This Supreme Court decision has pointed out that we as a human collective have the power to overturn restrictions and limitations placed on ourselves and other members of our society. This ruling should not be viewed as a victory over a restrictive institution but rather a victory over the preconceived notion that our will and desires exist separately from the institution put in place.

The government only wields the amount of power we as the constituency allocate it, because at the most basic level, we are the government. The responsibility of ensuring equality for every man and woman should not be left to the government because it is not responsible for inequality.


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