Politics & Policy

Can Marriage Be Saved?

On Sunday, men will marry men and women will marry women, by law, in the State of New York. As we see the photos — and watch the protests — we should ask how and why it matters to anyone but the same-sex couples who marry. What have we learned in the Empire State and what’s next for marriage, in New York and elsewhere? National Review Online asked some experts.

Brian S. Brown

Same-sex marriage comes to New York on Sunday. Whom will it impact other than the couples involved? The answer is: almost everyone. The New York legislature did not create a category of marriage called “gay marriage,” but instead redefined marriage for everyone. That means that anyone who doesn’t go along with this new politically inspired understanding of the historic institution of marriage will be treated under the law as the equivalent of a racist. Already, town clerks with deeply held religious beliefs about marriage have been told they will be fired if they refuse to sanction gay marriages. Some have already been forced to quit. We know from the experience in other states that professionals with strongly held moral beliefs about marriage will be threatened with loss of their professional licenses — and thus their livelihood — if they resist. Christian counselors will be put out of business unless they violate their religious principles and condone gay marriage. Wedding professionals who don’t want to be involved in gay weddings will be sanctioned. Most troubling, children as young as kindergartners will be taught in school that gay marriage is the same as traditional marriage — and parents will be powerless to do anything about it. In short, the consequences to society will be profound.

But this is far from over. People all across the state are rallying to restore marriage by putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot. Thousands are attending marches throughout the state on Sunday, and volunteering in droves at www.letthepeoplevote.com. We are determined to let the people of New York have the final say on marriage, just as voters in 31 other states have been able to do.

— Brian S. Brown is president of the National Organization for Marriage.

William C. Duncan

Sunday’s media celebration of same-sex marriage in New York will surely miss the true significance of the change it heralds, a change that will extend far beyond the meaning it gives to new spouses. This is what makes same-sex marriage so unique in its impact on the institution. The decision to forego (through cohabitation) or end (through divorce) marriage undoubtedly has a broad social impact, especially when these individual decisions accumulate as they have in recent decades. But these kinds of decisions can be understood only as a departure from an ideal. Redefining marriage to modify its very nature is different. It involves the substitution of the ideal with an entirely different one. The new ideal, that marriage is the state’s way of endorsing adult relationship choices, will necessarily displace the old one, which had the potentially procreative relationship between men and women at its core. The widely ignored reality is that New York’s official policy will now be that children do not need a mother and father, because men and women are fungible. Will polygamy or open marriages be next? To some degree, that’s beside the point; the shift that will have already occurred is radical enough.

William C. Duncan is director of the Marriage Law Foundation.

Chuck Donovan

What will a few thousand same-sex weddings in New York do to alter what thousands of years of marriage have accomplished for society? In isolation — over weeks and months — nothing cataclysmic. Durable institutions take time, like boulders under a waterfall, to dissolve. But, in our time, marriage has already been subject to Niagaras of erosion.

The civilizing work of marriage has been a centuries-long enterprise, as societies sought and found four sources of stability between the sexes and, from their cooperation, within communities. Those four sources of stability are mutuality, exclusivity, longevity, and intergenerational integrity (the comfort, that is, of having ancestors and descendants — a place in this world).

When social philosophers speak of the “pre-political” nature of marriage, they mean something about both its divine origin and its civilizing attributes. The direct and indirect contributions of these attributes to personal happiness and social order are incalculable.

When they break down, when mutuality (the two sexes, paired and equal in status), exclusivity (fidelity), longevity (lifelong marriage), and intergenerational integrity (think of Alex Haley’s Roots) decline, the losses accumulate. Same-sex marriage did not begin this accumulation, but weigh its character against all four attributes, and the ramifications multiply.

— Chuck Donovan is senior research fellow in the Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society.

Matthew J. Franck

The most notable thing about the arrival of same-sex marriage in New York is that it was brought about by legislative and not judicial fiat. But this confers no legitimacy on what is, at root, a fraud. The legislature and the governor broke the procedural norms of the legislative process; broke their oaths to constituents, in the case of some state senators who had pledged a “no” vote in the last election; and broke faith with the people of New York, who deserved a vote at the polls on this question. The institution of marriage is prior in time and importance to constitutions themselves, and like all constitutional questions, this one should have been referred to the people’s direct democracy. New York’s liberal politicians rightly feared a loss in that venue.

What has been gained by the forces behind this act? Certainly not marriage for same-sex couples. They have gained a name, but not the thing it names. They have only destroyed a word’s meaning. And they have harmed the thing it does name, by teaching — one of the things the law does — that marriage has no connection to children and families, but instead is just a bundle of privileges from the government, to be taken up if it is in one’s self-interest. New York has struck a great blow, in the name of a false “right,” against real freedom. Same-sex marriage is inseparable from authoritarianism, as we will see when New York’s Christians, Jews, and Muslims lose the religious freedom to act on the truth about marriage as they know it.

— 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, New Jersey.

Robert P. George

Institutions that speak and act for all of us will inevitably speak and act in ways contrary to the truth about the nature, meaning, and value of marriage. In so speaking and acting, they will reinforce a sexual-revolutionary ideology that has already taken a heavy toll on our society, giving us the divorce culture, widespread non-marital sexual cohabitation, an out-of-wedlock birth rate of more than 40 percent, and other social pathologies. Redefining marriage locks sexual-revolutionary dogma into New York’s public policy in a profound way, making the reform of earlier misguided “reforms” and the rebuilding of a vibrant marriage culture more difficult. Despite the cosmetic protections of “religious liberty,” New York’s “marriage equality” law will result in a wide variety of impositions upon the consciences of New York citizens. In certain domains, it will impose a form of liberal dhimmitude on faithful Catholics, Evangelical Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Mormons, Orthodox Jews, and devout Muslims. It will certainly make even more daunting the task of parents who are members of these faiths to transmit to their children an understanding of marriage and sexual morality in line with the teachings of their traditions. New York’s legislature did not “expand access” to marriage, while leaving its definition intact; rather, it abolished legal recognition of the reality long known as “marriage” and reassigned the label to something quite different, namely, a form of civil union for romantic-sexual partners (in pairs for now, but that will not hold), be they same-sex or opposite-sex. New York’s governor and legislature can, by purloining a word, call this form of civil union “marriage,” but it will lack what marriage possesses — an inherent, intelligible (not merely sentimental and subjective) basis for the norms of monogamy, sexual fidelity, and the pledge of permanence that structure marriage as historically understood in our law and culture.

Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He talked at length about the New York marriage law and its implications here.

EdWARD T. Mechmann

The most important lesson to take from the legalization of same-sex “marriage” is the opportunity it offers to our churches.

This law happened because people turned away from the values of authentic marriage, and embraced counterfeits — promiscuity, contraception, pornography. We Christians have some responsibility for this: Too often, we speak of marriage quietly and timidly, as if we’re embarrassed by it.

No more. We have to present God’s plan for love and marriage boldly — particularly chastity, fidelity, and self-giving love. When we do this with confidence, people find it compelling and worthy of trying. But talk isn’t enough — we need to get better at teaching couples practical skills and helping those who are struggling.

Pope Paul VI observed that modern people only listen to teachers if they are witnesses. The best witnesses to marriage are couples who can testify to the challenges and rewards of self-sacrificing love — especially those who remain faithful through all manner of difficulties. There are many such couples, and we need to call them forth.

This is our opportunity to rebuild a marriage culture, one heart at a time. We will be persecuted for this. Good. That will give us a chance to show that we really believe in God’s view of marriage.

— Edward T. Mechmann is assistant director of the Family Life/Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of New York.

Alan Sears

When Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 by an 84 percent margin, it rightly recognized that the lifelong, faithful union of a man and a woman is the fundamental building block of thriving societies. It knew then what we still know now, regardless of what is happening in New York: The union between husband and wife benefits society — especially children — in unique and special ways that cannot be duplicated by any other relationship. That’s why 62 percent of Americans want to protect traditional marriage, and not.because they are filled with “hate” for or “bias” against anyone.

“Simply put,” Congress wrote in DOMA, “government has an interest in marriage because it has an interest in children.” There are many personal reasons why people choose to marry, but what has happened in New York and a handful of other places is a first: the wholesale replacement of the public purpose of marriage with various private purposes, which may be important to individuals, but are not the business of broad public policy.

Marriage laws have never before stemmed from the individual circumstances of participants. Instead, they stem from the fact that children are generally the product of the sexual relationships between men and women, and that both fathers and mothers are necessary and important for children. That explains the government’s interest and why it doesn’t issue licenses for just any relationship between two people.

But as Alliance Defense Fund senior legal counsel Austin R. Nimocks testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, those who want to redefine marriage into something it has never been “are asking the whole of society to ignore the unique and demonstrable differences between men and women in parenthood: no mothers, no fathers, just generic parents. But there are no generic people. We are composed of two complementary, but different, halves of humanity.” And that’s something that no piece of legislation can ever change.

Alan Sears is a former federal prosecutor who held various posts in the departments of Justice and Interior during the Reagan administration. He is president and CEO of the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal alliance working to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.

Glen T. Stanton

As we watch the celebratory images streaming out of New York on Sunday, it’s important to realize the fullness of what we are seeing. Each of these couples, and nearly all the media reporting on them, is celebrating a radical redefinition of not just marriage and family, but at its base, what it means to be human.

Marriage is so much more than a religious, Western, conservative, modern, or legal idea. Anthropologist Donald Brown, in his book, Human Universals, examining the qualities that all cultures at all times hold in common given their shared humanity, lists marriage as one of these universals. And for all the varied ways that different cultures have done marriage, one thing remains commonly consistent – or at least it did until the last few nanoseconds of our human experience. Marriage always brought the two amazing and mysteriously distinct parts of humanity together into an exclusive, socially valued, and protective union. Marriage has always existed to solve the paradox that humanity exists in male and female.

Each of the couples we will see on Sunday — together with the New York legislature which enacted this new law — is proclaiming with a loud and powerful voice that male and female are now merely sentimental terms. Have a husband and wife, mother and father in your family if you like, but no one really needs them anymore. Male and female become to the family what the service agreement on your new SUV is: optional, based on your personal preference. This is exactly what New York marriage law now teaches, and it will not be without widespread consequence. How can it not?

For these people, the mighty, flowing stream of human experience has nothing to teach us. With all the self-assurance they can muster, they know better today simply because they are children of the modern age. Consider  the experimentation with family formation over the past 40 years — and there has been a great deal of it: divorce and growing step-families; explosive growth in unmarried cohabitation and child-bearing; fatherlessness and sexual experimentation. None of these changes have served to improve any important measure of developmental well-being for children. In fact, each has reduced child welfare significantly. Same-sex marriage and parenting is simply the next step in this long line of family experimentation, driven by nothing more than adult desire, and copious amounts of happy talk and wishful thinking.  

— Glenn T. Stanton is director of global family formation studies at Focus on the Family

Ed Whelan

Marriage is a public institution, and the marriage practices that a society endorses inevitably have real-world consequences that extend far beyond the individuals who marry, and shape or deform the broader culture. Does anyone really believe otherwise? It’s clear that many people support so-called same-sex marriage at least in part because of the public validation of same-sex relationships that the redefinition of marriage entails.

The idea that a man could “marry” another man (or that a woman could “marry” another woman) could be taken seriously only in a culture that has become deeply confused about what marriage is. That confusion is largely the result of what heterosexuals have done to marriage in recent decades. It will not be easy to rebuild a sound marriage culture. But the spread of same-sex marriage would make that rebuilding project impossible, as it would sever permanently the societal understanding of the inherent link between marriage and responsible procreation and child-rearing. The more confusion there is about the mission of marriage, the less well marriage will perform its critical mission. And the millions and millions of victims — children born into unstable or nonexistent families — will continue to pile up, with all the attendant disastrous consequences.

If there is a dim silver lining, it is perhaps that New York’s legislative adoption of same-sex marriage will expose the canard that homosexuals are politically powerless — one of the criteria for recognition as a “suspect” class for purposes of heightened scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause — and will induce the Supreme Court to leave the definition of marriage to the democratic processes in the various states and in Congress.

— Ed Whelan is the president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center

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