Mitt Romney is a brave man.
While the GOP glitterocracy attended the first gay wedding of one of their own, Gov. Romney was in Washington, D.C., making the single most eloquent and articulate defense of our traditional understanding of marriage I have heard from an American politician.
“Like me, the great majority of Americans wish both to preserve the traditional definition of marriage and to oppose bias and intolerance directed towards gays and lesbians,” Romney began by way of preface.
Then he asked the question we should all be asking: “Given the decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. . . Should we abandon marriage as we know it and as it was known by the framers of our Constitution? Has America been wrong about marriage for 200 plus years? Were generations that spanned thousands of years from all the civilizations of the world wrong about marriage? Are the philosophies and teachings of all the world’s major religions simply wrong? Or is it more likely that four people among the seven that sat in a court in Massachusetts have erred? I believe that is the case.”
Then Mitt Romney put his finger on where the error comes from: the limited perspectives of lawyers and judges. “They viewed marriage as an institution principally designed for adults. Adults are who they saw. Adults stood before them in the courtroom. And so they thought of adult rights, equal rights for adults. If heterosexual adults can marry, then homosexual adults must also marry to have equal rights.”
But, he went on, marriage is not solely for adults. “Marriage is also for children. In fact, marriage is principally for the nurturing and development of children. The children of America have the right to have a father and a mother.”
The advocates tell us the skies have not fallen in Massachusetts; nothing has changed, they assure us. Romney points out that small things have already begun to change, foretelling the bigger, sadder changes to come. First, the marriage licenses change so they no longer read husband and wife but “Party A” and “Party B.” The Department of Health insists that birth certificates also change. The line for mother and father becomes “Parent A” and “Parent B.”
So far the governor has resisted, but ultimately the same court that could see no reason why marriage involves a husband and wife other than “animus” will decide whether or not we still think the language of mothers and fathers is appropriate. And the Massachusetts supreme court has already laid down a marker in this case: In Goodridge the court ruled that something called the “presumption of parentage” is one of the rights of marriage. Until that ruling, there was nothing called the presumption of parentage in the law. The traditional marriage idea was the “presumption of paternity”–that is, the husband is presumed by law to be the father of any baby his wife has.
But how can same-sex marriages really be viewed as the equivalent of husband-and-wife unions if we cling to such outmoded, biologically rooted notions of parenthood?
The transformation of mother and father into “Parent A” and “Parent B” is the model of the paradigm shift now underway in Massachusetts. The distinctive features of the union of male and female are going to have to be removed from our notions of marriage and family. The experience of same-sex couples will become the new norm for family life, because the “unisex” idea that gender has no public significance is the only model that can be construed as “inclusive” of both opposite-sex and same-sex unions. The result is not neutrality but the active promotion of a new unisex ideal, in which the distinctive features of opposite-sex relations will be submerged, marginalized, cast to one side, and redefined as discrimination in order to protect the new court-ordered public moral standard of the equality of same-sex and opposite-sex couples.
Here’s Gov. Romney’s estimate of the future: “[C]hanging the definition of marriage to include same-sex unions will lead to further far-reaching changes that also would influence the development of our children. For example, school textbooks and classroom instruction may be required to assert absolute societal indifference between traditional marriage and same-sex practice.”
The gap between civil and religious marriage will widen to a chasm, just at the time the state more than ever needs the help of faith communities in strengthening marriage. “Among the structures that would be affected would be religious and certain charitable institutions. Those with scriptural or other immutable founding principles will be castigated. Ultimately, some may founder. We need more from these institutions, not less, and particularly so to support and strengthen those in greatest need.”
The change has begun: The needs and desires of a tiny fraction of adults in alternative families are becoming the basis of a new moral norm. Anyone who departs from it risks thundering denunciation from self-righteous elites who are no longer satisfied with tolerance and civility–living with our deepest differences–but wish to impose their vision of morality on the majority.
Which makes Mitt Romney a very brave man, indeed.
–Maggie Gallagher is president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, which sponsors www.marriagedebate.com.