National Review Online asked academics and activists to look to the future, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s marriage rulings this week.
I was not surprised to see the Defense of Marriage Act struck down. From the beginning, I viewed it as counterintuitive legislation backed by a number of moderates in order to take the air out of a movement toward a constitutional amendment when one could still be had.
Where do we stand? If you look at the tradition of American law, marriage has been and remains an issue for the states. Wednesday’s rulings don’t change that. But what about the Mormons out west and their polygamous marriages? The answer is that they occupied a U.S. territory at the time, not a state. And thus the U.S. government had rare jurisdiction over marriage in the case of the Church of the Latter-day Saints.
How about the future? I predict that gay marriage, as a feature of family life, will never become a very big deal other than as a political effort. The movement will prove its point in a manner highly satisfying to culture warriors on one side. Same-sex marriages will then fail to occur in large numbers.
None of this is to say that the direction of law and jurisprudence will not take a toll, culturally and philosophically. Justice Scalia made the point that really needs to be addressed. The Supreme Court has parroted others in saying the only reason legislators try to limit gay marriage is basically unreasoning hatred. Is that really the only reason? Of course it isn’t. The court should be more charitable to marriage traditionalists and recognize more clearly, as it once did, that a case can be rational without commanding agreement. Much of our public policy proceeds on exactly that basis. I cannot make laws based on collectivist logic vanish simply because I find them unconvincing. Yet, something like that is happening with some courts and gay marriage.
This lack of charity spells danger for religious institutions in the United States. If opposition to gay marriage comes to be viewed as equivalent to something like racism, then suddenly large numbers of organizations with traditional views may find themselves slowly exiled from American public life.
Today’s rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court on the federal Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 cases weren’t what supporters of natural marriage had hoped for: The Court overturned part of DOMA and neglected to uphold the will of more than 7 million California voters as it relates to Proposition 8.
Where do we go from here? I offer two suggestions.
First, realize what the Supreme Court did not do. It did not create a federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage as it did for abortion in 1973. So these rulings are not a death blow to marriage, as some claim. Think about it: The Supreme Court heard the best arguments same-sex-marriage advocates have to offer, and those arguments failed to persuade the justices to strike down existing state marriage laws and create a right to same-sex marriage. This should encourage us to continue our efforts to secure and protect marriage through civic and legal means.
Secondly, we must redouble our efforts to make the case for marriage by taking our own marriage oaths more seriously. The Supreme Court decisions do nothing to diminish the job of the Church to proclaim God’s truth to a culture that desperately needs it, nor do they diminish the functions of marriage. Marriage still serves to unite husbands, wives, and children. It still protects children from poverty. It still provides the best environment to raise healthy, thriving kids.
The single greatest argument we can present to the world on marriage is to personally live out marriage in all its God-ordained fullness and radiant beauty. Let’s do that well, so we can change the hearts and minds of those who may doubt the wisdom of God’s plan.