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State Legislatures don’t get last word

Four of the hottest social issues in state legislatures around the country in this lawmaking season are abortion, same-sex marriage, marijuana and guns. The North Dakota Legislature is having its share of these controversies in the current session.  

 All of them are issues that traditionally have been dominated by state governments. However, caught in the limitations of a federal system, legislatures have been losing more and more of their ultimate authority over social issues.   

In our federal system, powers not delegated to the national government are reserved to the states.  Even though the jurisdiction of the federal government has grown with the nationalization of society and the economy, legislatures are still playing the lead role in social issues today.

In the exercise of the reserved powers, each state comes up with its unique solutions.  The cultural climate in each state dictates legislation and this cultural climate is shaped by a wide variety of unique variables. Ultimately, every state marches to its own cultural drum when it comes to tackling social issues. 

Take the abortion issue. The legislature in Mississippi will come up with more stringent proposals than will Vermont.  If North Dakota passes tough anti-abortion legislation, Minnesota, responding to its own cultural climate, will come up with its own version.

So, even if North Dakota came up with a strategy to stop abortion, it would not be the last word because Minnesota and other states would still be open for business.

Same-sex marriage falls into the same realm, although residence requirements slow the process. But we have seen same-sex marriages performed for out-of-staters in several states in which same-sex marriage is legal.

Dealing with the gun issue in a federal system is the same. Colorado has passed legislation to curtail the sale and transfer of guns.  But the Colorado residents who demand guns live right next to Wyoming where arsenals of guns are available to almost any buyer.

And if Coloradans can’t get the guns they want in Wyoming, they can just drift over to Dick and Jim Cabela’s   in Sydney, Nebraska where there are enough guns to equip the whole Mexican army.

Then there’s the issue of legalizing marijuana.  Restrictive laws passed in Utah won’t prevent Utah folks from going to California to get as high as they want, Utah legislation notwithstanding.

In the final analysis, folks who demand what their home states won’t permit can always find a state that will provide it for them.  (We haven’t even considered the options in Canada, Mexico and other countries.)

 It appears that state governments can no longer be expected to govern social values. That means that greater responsibility for dealing with moral challenges is in the laps of individuals and churches.  

With 80 percent of us claiming to be Christians, it seems that most of the behavior we are passing laws to regulate must be behavior of professing Christians. This suggests that issues involving Christian values haven’t been clearly defined or vigorously advocated by churches.

 If this 80 percent of our population would appropriate Christian values regarding abortion, same-sex marriage, guns and marijuana, we would be a long way up the road toward a more moral society.  Then we could concern ourselves with the other 20 percent.

There is no question that our society has been drifting away from Christian values. Maybe we would have had more impact if we had spent more time and money teaching the 80 percent the meaning of being a Christian.