Reyes at the Tenth Circuit: Why We Don’t See More Kindness in Politics

Sean Reyes
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes went out of his way on Thursday to express empathy for those suing the state for recognition of their same-sex relationships.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes went out of his way to be kind to his opponents. They took advantage of the opportunity to mock and ridicule him and his intent, even while ignoring his empathy and the tough position that defending the law requires.

In the short few months since Judge Shelby flipped Utah law on its head, same-sex marriage activists have proven to have all the subtlety of a brick thrown through a window in the dead of night.

Followed by drunk carousing while the occupants of the house stare on in dumb amazement.

Society has rapidly and dramatically shifted its views to accept gay and lesbian lifestyles.  Many states have granted same-sex marriage, whether by legislation or judicial fiat.  And yet,  some activists of the cause have become more brazen in their attacks on their opponents, taking every opportunity to belittle and ridicule.

Case in point: yesterday, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes went out of his way to meet his opponents and express empathy to them. As the chief legal counsel of the state, it’s his job under the law to defend the states’ statutes and constitution, of which Amendment 3 is a part.

He crossed the court room and, in an a magnanimous act not required of him or his office, offered his empathy to his opponents and their families, telling them that he was not pursuing the case because he had a personal vendetta or feelings about them and their lifestyle, but rather because it was his duty.

Reyes was, in short, trying to do what was right, both as a public official and, as a person who recognizes the pain others are feeling, to express empathy.

It took soon-to-be-former  Utah Democratic State Chair Jim Dabakis about 2.1 seconds to seize upon on one part of one phrase of Reyes’ comments and distort them into a meaning a world away from what Reyes had meant, even by the standards of those who were actually there and who expressed grudging appreciation for Reyes’ efforts to reach out. 

Senator Jim Dabakis
Soon-to-be former Utah Democratic Party Chair Jim Dabakis took to Twitter to mock and deride Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes for reaching out to the plaintiffs of Kitchen v. Herbert.

Said Dabakis: “Very classy of AG to meet LGBT plaintiffs in Denver and say ‘nothing personal’ as he tried to destroy their marriages #utpol #Amendment3[,] then comparing it to Governor Lilburn Boggs issued extermination order against Mormons in Missouri in 1838.

Exaggeration, much?

Or just all out hyperbole? Because no one, except perhaps those with the thickest blinders to reality, are taking that kind of assertion seriously.

Others compared Reyes to criminals or added “WTF” to their commentary on the AG’s comments.

That same-sex marriage has moved forward and become more accepted by the world is a tribute to the fact that many, if not most of us, actually know people who are gay or lesbian, and we know that they are, generally speaking, good, decent people who make valuable contributions to our communities. Often they are family members or neighbors.  We love and appreciate them and their contributions.

Thank Heaven we don’t have to make our judgments based on the few who run to twitter to grind their ax.

So what did happen at the court house?

Reyes, speaking to reporters outside the court room, said that he told plaintiffs had said that he “wished them the best. I told them I knew their families were as important to them as my families are important to me, and it’s not personal by any means.”

That’s empathy, people, not apology.

Reyes isn’t pursuing the case because he has animus for the plaintiffs or their lifestyle choices. One who doesn’t care about his opponents doesn’t cross the court room, shake their hands and look them in the eye.

It was an expression of empathy, of recognition that the legislature, and the people of Utah, have passed a law that inelegantly defines and restricts marriage as between one man and one woman.  Whether he likes that law or not–and Reyes has taken pains to avoid giving his own personal opinion on the law–is beside the point.

But defending the law is the point.

As Eugene Volokh argued in relation to another lawyer on the Kitchen defense team: “officers of the court ‘take an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, not any particular religious doctrine.’ Likewise, they take an oath to uphold the Constitution, not the moral views of the Human Rights Campaign[ ]” or any other group.

The Attorney General isn’t the Governor or a legislator who has the right to set policy and change their position to reflect the whims of political wind.

Reyes has taken an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution. He’s going to do his best to do so, provide for a legal process that allows full examination of the issues, and defines what definition of marriage should be legal. 

If  pressed, I suspect that those mocking Reyes would prefer an AG that seeks to defend the constitution over an AG that shifts with the whims of political controversy or according to the largest donor. Today, those winds are blowing in their favor, but what about tomorrow?

It’s true that Reyes could have been more artful in his expression of empathy.  However, the absolute lack of mercy or consideration given to the act itself demonstrates disturbing things about the activists opposing traditional marriage and Utah’s traditional marriage definition.

It says that they aren’t interested in persuading people to accept them, but in shaming them into silence.

To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, Reyes has and continues to avoid hating, in spite of the vitriol hurled at him over the legal process of appealing the Kitchen v. Herbert decision. It’s a quality that we should encourage, even in our enemies, not mock or deride.

Previously posted at Publius Online

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