This week, the Supreme Court is hearing challenges to laws defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The first case involves California’s Proposition 8, in which voters amended the state constitution to affirm that definition of marriage. The other case involves the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress in 1996.
Proponents of same-sex marriage present their case as a modest adjustment of marriage policy. But redefining marriage has far-reaching consequences that would further erode the link between this fundamental institution and the well-being of children.
When Congress passed DOMA, it specified children as the defining feature of marriage and government’s interest in marriage. According to the law:
"Simply defined, marriage is a relationship within which the community socially approves and encourages sexual intercourse and the birth of children. It is society’s way of signaling to would-be parents that their long-term relationship is socially important — a public concern, not simply a private affair.
That, then, is why we have marriage laws. Were it not for the possibility of begetting children inherent in heterosexual unions, society would have no particular interest in encouraging citizens to come together in a committed relationship. But because America, like nearly every known human society, is concerned about its children, our government has a special obligation to ensure that we preserve and protect the institution of marriage."
Pundits and politicos have joined activists to insist that America has moved past this framing of marriage; that marriage is now about ensconcing love in the law. But this reflects a misunderstanding of marriage as an age-old institution that brings together a man and a woman as husband and wife to be father and mother to any children their union produces.
The reality is that all children deserve a mom and dad, a reality that same-sex marriage denies.
The Supreme Court is being asked to redefine marriage as we — and civilizations for millennia past — have known it. Doing so would make it a genderless institution that no longer is about the needs of children, but the desires of adults — and the whims of whatever emotional union two (or more) individuals can contrive.
Today, 41 states and the federal government have good reason to define marriage as one man, one woman. The court shouldn’t end Americans’ ongoing debate about marriage. That debate belongs in our hands, through the democratic process. As the thousands marching on the National Mall yesterday for marriage as the union of a man and a woman made clear, Americans want their voices to be heard — not overruled by the Supreme Court.