But I believe the president’s declaration — now tentatively linked to a devotion to federalism, but that will soon drop away — will prove to be a serious miscalculation. The cultural forces devoted to the preservation of marriage are seasoned campaigners, with a winning track record (see their latest victory in North Carolina). By moving the marriage issue to the front of the American political consciousness, Obama has handed Mitt Romney and the Republican party a large opportunity to ask some pointed questions: Just how many of his fellow Americans does the president consider to be bigots? What does he think marriage is? Why does it exist? Why does he want to change the fundamental meaning of a bedrock institution on which every human civilization has successfully stood? And just how many more inroads would he like to make on religious freedom?
This just became an issue that competes seriously with the economy for the American voter’s attention. Let the debate begin.
— Matthew J. Franck is director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.
EDWARD T. MECHMANN
The president has now announced what everyone already knew — he favors the radical redefinition of marriage.
In terms of actual policies, it’s hard to see how this announcement will make any difference. The administration has already abdicated its obligation to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act, and has even advocated for courts to overturn it — a remarkable position for a president who swore to faithfully execute the laws and the Constitution.
Regardless, this announcement should fill defenders of marriage with trepidation. The president has an enormous capacity for influencing public opinion. Will he show respect for those who defend authentic marriage, or will this lead to our being further stigmatized as “bigots”? The federal government also has frightful authority to enforce laws against “discrimination.” Interestingly, the president invoked his personal faith in making this announcement. But will he — and his army of lawyers — show respect for the liberty of churches, organizations, and individuals who disagree with him based on their own religious beliefs? The track record is not encouraging.
It is a dangerous moment when the president rejects the foundation of our society. It may be a risky future for those of us who dissent.
— Edward T. Mechmann is assistant director of the Family Life/Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of New York.