Clark at Show Me Progress gets it right: the states' rights argument has been primarily deployed in US history to justify slavery and then Jim Crow. It's about racism, and hearing the argument used by anyone on the left makes me cringe. It's an empty call to power for another government organization based solely on the fact that they're more likely to share your prejudices, not a coherent policy argument. Yeah, there are plenty of instances where states act better than the federal government, but those are rarely framed as "states' rights" - usually just as more effective governance.
So when Democrats started using the states' right argument to oppose Thune's gun rights amendment to the DOD reauthorization bill (that would have allowed people to carry concealed weapons over state lines, eviscerating the more stringent permit requirements some states have), it was interesting. Yes, that hypocrisy had to be pointed out. The bigger issue, though, isn't that states' rights are unalienable. It's that America's affinity for guns and America's history of institutionalized and cultural racism are inextricably tied together, so the contradiction between gun advocates' actions here (opposing states' rights when the states that get trampled on are those that regulate guns more) and their normal rhetoric (that states' rights are sacred) proves that they pretty much don't care about states' rights and have been using that argument to cynically push for whatever they want, regardless of what it does to states.
So Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) either didn't get the memo or is more to the right than we thought, and gave a full conservative blast in favor of a state's right to oppose same-sex marriage:
"I think it is a bad idea for us in Washington to tell one state they have to accept what another state has done," she said. "This is a foot in the door that would require, for example, the laws in Vermont on gay marriage to be enforced in Missouri. It just kills me, these guys, that they would pound the tables about states' rights until, situationally, they don't want to talk about states' rights anymore."
Her argument couldn't be more ridiculous. This amendment wouldn't have been the "foot in the door" for future violations of states' rights. Federalism is already a pretty messy marble cake, with the federal government working in many areas of law and policy that they weren't working in 200 years ago and states taking on many responsibilities that the writers of the Constitution didn't even imagine at the time. It's not like this gun amendment would be the first "infringement" on states' rights, and it's not like it's going to be the last.
And let's not be so naive as to believe that DOMA exists to protect states' rights. While plenty of the conservative rhetoric around DOMA says that it's about states' rights, there's currently a lawsuit in the works that says the opposite: that it violates certain states' rights to determine who can marry. States don't have to recognize marriages they don't want to, DOMA or no DOMA. So the only relevant part of DOMA is the part about preventing federal rights for same-sex couples, which is really an assertion of federal power separate from the states.
In other words, I thought everyone pretty much knew that DOMA and various states' right arguments against same-sex marriage were really part of a system of power that punishes those who, for whatever reason, want to make their own McFamily. I didn't really think there was anyone outside of the fringe right who actually thought the same-sex marriage issue was about states' rights. (Even Clinton and Obama, during their campaigns, said that they were policy questions better left to the states, not a function of sacrosanct state power.)
"In talking about my recent vote against the gun provision offered in the Senate, I wasn't clear when I stated that my vote against that provision was because it came down to a states' rights. I was expressing my frustration in that some who argue that states shouldn't respect the laws, certificates, or permits from other states when it's convenient, like with gay marriage, but then argue that they should when it's convenient on another issue, like gun rights. They can't have it both ways," McCaskill said.
Yeah, that sounds a lot better. Whether the issue was a genuine lack of clarity in her first statement (unlikely), speaking to different audiences (possible), or just a case of getting caught saying something stupid and responding to make the shitstorm go away (ding ding ding!), at least she ended up on the right page.