On February 14, Judge Amanda Wright Allen struck down Virginia’s marriage law as unconstitutional. She began her opinion by quoting from a poetic commemorative address, then followed by incorrectly claiming that the phrase “all men are created equal” is found in the Constitution. Thirty years ago, this would have earned Judge Wright the ire of her law-school professors, but, under the current administration, it won her an appointment to the federal judiciary.
To me, though, the most interesting comments came not from Judge Allen, but from Virginia’s attorney general, Mark Herring: “I’m proud to say today the Commonwealth of Virginia stood on the right side of the law and the right side of history.”
Betraying confusion regarding the duties of his office, Mr. Herring allowed his personal disapproval of Virginia’s marriage law to justify aiding those who would annul the law he was sworn to uphold and enforce.
Still, as bad as it was for the attorney general not to understand which side of the law he was supposed to be on, what was even more troubling was his idea that his state was now on the “right side of the history.”
Why does it always seem like the people who invoke the movement of history actually disdain the value of the past and instead mean to force on us their own peculiar vision for the future? Indeed, even as Herring pushed the citizens of Virginia to get on the “right side of history,” he was urging Judge Allen’s ruling that “neither history nor tradition” could save the marriage laws of their state.
There is also something mystifying about the left’s habit of claiming to have “history” on its side. The medieval scholastic understandably believed that history had a purpose: He believed in a Divine Creator upon whom every human breath depended. But for modern man, who insists that everything has only material causes, what reason can there be for this habit? How can history have a mind? From where does history draw its purpose?
More to the point, whose side was history on in 1986 when the Supreme Court ruled that states could criminalize homosexual conduct? Whose side was history on when President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law? Did the left abandon its agenda in the face of “history” the way they expect us to abandon our cause today?
If we really cared about the instruction of history, we would look back to the collective experience of 7,000 years of civilization. If we really followed the example of history, we would tear our clothes in shame and burn sacred offerings in hope of forgiveness.
Our culture imagines rights as an ever-expanding project, but, like most everything else in life, they are a zero-sum game. As gay rights advance, free speech, free association, and the free exercise of religion recede, and what we used to call the First Amendment now sits over here with the rest of us on the wrong side of history.