This week, the Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of two laws: Proposition 8, passed by the citizens of California in 2008 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed by the House (342-67) and Senate (85-14) and signed by President Clinton in 1996. It is a historic moment, the climax of a cultural shift so sudden I fear we may embrace change before fully understanding what’s at stake and the implications of getting marriage policy wrong.
Though homosexuality and same-sex romantic relationships have existed throughout human history, the first same-sex marriage law was not enacted until 2000 in the Netherlands. In 13 years, we have gone from a world in which no civilization in all of human history recognized the notion of "same-sex marriage" to one in which redefinition is demanded as a basic human right. Compare this to the 100 years between the Emancipation Proclamation and Civil Rights Act (or nearly 200 years if you start with Wilberforce in England in 1787). Compare this to the time between the publication of the Magna Carta in 1215 and the end of monarchical rule in Western civilization in the early 20th century.
This isn’t to say that realizing basic human rights must take generations, but it always has. And in instances where society has adopted radical social change, the results have been regrettable.
In 1973, the Supreme Court thrust abortion on a culture that didn’t want it, igniting a 40- year culture war and costing some 50 million people their lives. Recent scientific advancements have confirmed what moral intuition has always known: an unborn child is a life, with brain waves, a heartbeat, and finger nails. Soon, I hope, we will remedy our past mistake and give the unborn all the rights due every human being.
No generation should better understand the tumult of tinkering with the institution of marriage than millennials. We know all too well the pain of divorce, a ubiquitous feature of the modern American family. Divorce used to be rare; in 1910 just 13% of marriages ended in divorce. Today it is 40%. In 1960, 9 of every 1000 married women experienced divorce; today it is 22 of every 1000. Does anyone believe we are better off thanks to the dilution of the principle of permanence and exclusivity? Lax divorce laws and rampant infidelity have harmed children and been costly for society.
The divorce outbreak stems from the same misunderstanding that's behind the notion of same-sex marriage: The idea that marriage is about what adults want. It isn’t; it’s about what children need. The government has no business regulating romance between adults. It has a vital interest in the institution that creates and nurtures the next generation.
Marriage is the first institution of society. It brings together one man and one woman as husband and wife to be father and mother to their children. Just as it takes one man and one woman to create a child, having one mother and father provides the ideal environment to raise a child.
Some say redefining marriage to include same-sex couples would strengthen marriage culture. They say marriage should be for any two people who love each other.
Giving consideration to the consequences of legal and philosophical precedent is not a "slippery-slope." It’s reasonable to ask if love is the basis for marriage, what do we do when more than two people love one another? What happens when siblings demand equal rights under the law? What about those who wish to be married for a term, but no longer once their romantic feelings for one another fade? Love is an important part of marriage, but not a basis for public policy.
For the state to define marriage according to its interest in the creation and welfare of the next generation requires no judgment about the morality of homosexuality. Many non-marital relationships are worthy of rights and responsibilities, including same-sex romantic couples, siblings, and friends who choose to care for one another. Where the law is inadequate, we should pursue legislative solutions. For example, central to the DOMA case is a tax disparity. Rather than redefine marriage, why not simply eliminate the estate tax?
Marriage is the beginning of family, and family is the foundation of society. Redefining marriage would further undermine an institution already weakened by pervasive infidelity and divorce. We need to promote a culture of marriage and family, not further weaken it.