DOMA and Prop 8: Why Republicans Oppose Same-Sex Marriage

Undoubtedly the most common argument given in opposition to same-sex marriage is the simplest one: “I don’t think that’s marriage.”

Former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich is quoted by USA Today as saying, “I don't think they have the power to change what is a religiously inspired definition.’” The definition Gingrich refers to is stated succinctly by Republican Steve Chabot of Ohio in the same article, “I support traditional marriage as between a man and a woman.”

This argument has come under fire frequently for its roots in Christian tradition as those on the other side of the issue continue to question whether or not a man’s moral beliefs should play a role in his political opinions and decisions.

But, it is a mistake to argue that the only opponents to same-sex marriage are religious folks. Indeed, it ought not to be forgotten that the issue about which we are speaking is a political one: should the national government recognize same-sex marriage as legitimate? This speaks far more to the powers of the national government to interfere in the private sphere than it does to issues of equality. There are those conservatives who argue that it is not the business of the government to decide who and who cannot be married; instead, they prefer to leave that decision to those who have long shaped the private sphere and who have influenced the definitions of marriage for so long — the churches. When faced with the issue of tax benefits being provided to married couples, these conservatives say (much like Rep. Rand Paul of Kentucky did recently) why not change the tax code rather than try to redefine an entire social institution?

Then, there are those Republicans who confuse the issue of same-sex marriage with the issue of states’ rights — states ought to be able to choose which contracts to accept as legally valid — including marriage contracts. Republicans who espouse that argument speak against same-sex marriage not from a moral viewpoint, but from (what they deem to be) a constitutional one. It is not, they say, the contract itself that they find distasteful, it’s the fact that a national law legislating same-sex marriage could be given the power to contravene state laws which oppose it. For example, there has been some speculation about how Justice Kennedy is likely to rule in the Prop 8 case since two of his favored positions seem to be at odds: gay rights and states’ rights.

The issue of same-sex marriage, which the nation is now so heatedly debating, is not one which can be settled overnight; moreover, it is important to remember that opposition to same-sex marriage can mean a variety of things. One who opposes same-sex marriage may oppose the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples, or it could mean opposing the grant of federal power which would allow the national government to define relationships between individuals, or it could mean opposing a law which seems to interfere with rights reserved to states in our federal system.

Regardless, as the Supreme Court convenes to deliberate the fate of Prop 8 it ought to be remembered that the complexities of same-sex marriage as a political, moral, and social question will not be solved, summed up, or smoothed out by this one case. Rather, it is through the continued democratic forum and the changing (or firming) of society’s mores that this question will really be settled.