Virginia Marriage Decision: Painting in Broad Strokes

by William C. Duncan

A federal trial judge in Virginia sent a valentine to advocates of redefining marriage. The opinion paints in broad strokes indeed. From beginning to end, the decision bristles with references to past bans on interracial marriage. The analogy has rhetorical force, but can’t really explain why marriage has until the past decade been universally understood to require a husband and wife. In fact, the analogy cuts the other way. It is a disservice to marriage to use it to send a repugnant message about racial supremacy; it is also a disservice to marriage to use it to send a message about relationship diversity. When courts are serious about engaging the purpose of marriage, they defer to the state’s ability to preserve the husband and wife understanding. When they don’t, they use thin analogies to past injustices to dragoon marriage laws into a social-engineering project to valorize adult relationship choices.