Politics & Policy

What’s Next for Marriage?

After the Supreme Court

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.

— Hunter Baker is the dean of instruction at Union University, an associate professor of political science, and the author of The End of Secularism and Political Thought: A Student’s Guide.



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.

— Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family.


Within the broad multi-decade drift of the shifting patterns of American sexual behaviors, attitudes, and laws, natural-law marriage (one man and one woman for life for the purpose of raising a family — the gift of Christianity to Western civilization) is receding. For most American children the experience of family, the building block of the nation and its most foundational level of government, has not been a good experience in the exercise of justice but one of deep disappointment, as the common good of the family has become subject to the private values and agendas of one or both of the parents. The majority, 55 percent, of American children suffer parental divorce or non-marriage by the time they reach age 17, and now the demographics of broken family governments are visible in the self-centered “privacy” interpretation of marriage, community, and laws by the Supreme Court.

The demographics of American sexual values and practices have now taken over the Supreme Court, and the American community is no longer based on raising the next generation of citizens and leaders justly and well, but on subjective and constantly changing interpretations of sex, reproduction, and family life. Our culture has changed massively and, with it, our government. The Supreme Court 41 years ago took sex outside of marriage in Eisenstadt v. Baird and accelerated the demise of the law of the family.

Now there are three options: Go with the flow and see our society fall apart; go on offense, by convincing the country to dedicate itself to growing the intact (sexually monogamous) family that worships God weekly (a necessary ingredient for the intactness); or carve out in law a totally protected space for the intact married family with children. Only one of these will lead to a stronger, more unified nation.

The big question of the moment is not whether the nation is up for it but whether religious believers (Catholics, Evangelicals, Orthodox Jews, and other people of faiths that embrace intact marriage) are up for the task that beckons. They have all been raised so comfortably and been so cosseted by a government that protected their freedoms that they may take a while to wake up. But the alarm has been ringing loudly of late: All three branches of government have been violating our freedoms in the last few years. We need to rise up, or become frogs in the gradually heating water, going comfortably toward the pleasure-domed demise of a once robust republic.

— Patrick F. Fagan is senior fellow and director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) at the Family Research Center.



If you were hoping for decisions upholding DOMA or Proposition 8, it’s probably because you place great trust in the family and indeed all of civil society — in that vast arena between man and state which is center stage for the drama of human development. In that case, you never expected a court of law to do our work for us, to save our marriage culture. Your only question at 10 a.m. yesterday was whether it would leave us the space to do so, or block the way.

The answer was something in between. Five justices have purported to put us on notice. While deliberately coy on state marriage laws, they have decided that we the people — through overwhelming majorities of our representatives and a Democratic president — were wrong to enact DOMA.

Five justices, in other words, held that the federal government’s preference for traditional state definitions was wrong. Then are the states wrong to have those definitions themselves? Not one justice — zero out of nine — drew that implication. Not one justice has voted to command the states — or, through them, the “platoons” of civil society (in Burke’s happy phrase) —- to adopt his or her own view of what marriage is and why we have it. Yet they had the chance to do just that, in Perry.

So the justices have not fully invaded the public square on this issue, but they are at the gates. And that tells us what to do from here. 

The Windsor majority stopped short of where its (admittedly hazy) logic was leading, apparently because, as Scalia says in dissent, they doubted they could get away with it: too much judicial policy-making, too soon. That means the defense of conjugal marriage matters now more than ever. It won’t be long before new challenges come before the Court, citing the Windsor majority. Whether they succeed will depend on how vigorously the democratic debate described in Alito’s dissent is joined. 

Justice Alito frames this issue as a contest between two visions of marriage — what he calls the “conjugal” and “consent-based” views. He cites books in defense of each — Jonathan Rauch’s on the latter, and one by Ryan Anderson, Robby George, and me on the former. What Alito rightly says no one can cite to settle the contest between these two visions — each substantive, each controversial, each finding some support across different moral and religious systems — is the Constitution. But if supporters of the conjugal view are cowed into silence, it will be easy for Kennedy to fix the next case for the consent-based view, as if there had never been a serious controversy, and with as blunt a tool as his poorly reasoned Windsor opinion.

So our first task is to develop and multiply our reasoned defenses of the conjugal view as the truth about marriage, and to make plain our policy reasons for enacting it. That will make it more awkward for the justices to apply their faulty Windsor reasoning (brilliantly exposed by Scalia’s dissent) to a future challenge to state marriage laws. Only supporters of conjugal marriage can decide — by our words and actions starting now — whether the Court, when it returns to this issue, will find a policy dispute serious and lively enough to demand its deference.

But if it does, our work will have only begun. Notwithstanding Justice Kennedy’s libelous dismissals of half his compatriots, this debate has never been about targeting any group. Indeed, for conjugal-marriage supporters it is not, ultimately, about homosexuality at all. It is about marriage. The proposal to define marriage as nothing more specific than your top emotional bond is one way to undermine its stabilizing norms, so crucial for family life and all the common good. But it is just one way. Before same-sex anything was in discussion, society was already busy dismantling its own foundation, brick by brick, through policies like no-fault divorce, and through a thousand personal decisions to dishonor the norms of marriage that make it the kind of total union inherently apt for family life. Winning the legal battle against redefinition is only a condition of winning the political one. And winning the political one is only a condition (though a necessary one) for winning back the marriage culture.

Yesterday’s most important developments in that latter struggle did not happen at a marble courtroom in D.C., but in a million minds and hearts and households across the country, as people chose to honor, or not, the demanding ideals of marriage. But we are naïve to deny the law’s effect on the latter. That’s why the marble courtroom matters to marriage — and why we must keep up the ground fight until marriage is back on trial. 

— Sherif Girgis is a philosophy Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University and a J.D. candidate at Yale Law School, and a co-author of What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense.


Regardless of what the Supreme Court says about marriage, we will still fight the battle for the heart of our nation every day. If we want society to start valuing marriage again, then we must begin by valuing the dignity of human life.

I think there is a case to be made for how the legalization of abortion over 40 years ago has led our nation to where it is today, divided over gay marriage. Roe v. Wade legalized the destruction (literally) of the family, the very bedrock of our civilization. It is at the root of our cultural rot.

We now live in a world of disposable diapers, disposable razors, disposable marriages, and disposable lives. It comes down to one simple truth: If life isn’t sacred, nothing else can be.

We know that, throughout history, culture precedes legality. If you want to change our nation’s laws, start with changing our nation’s culture. It may seem crazy, but college campuses are where we have the greatest chance to change our culture. This is where we can fight back — before it’s too late — against the Culture of Death’s lies and shine the light of truth to young people.

— Kristan Hawkins is president of Students for Life of America.


The Supreme Court has had its say, and the damage is not as bad as it could have been. We did not get a marriage Roe; the definition of marriage was essentially relegated to the states. Now is the time for conservatives to regroup, focusing on massaging public opinion toward a proper and more holistic understanding of marriage. That entails focusing on more than spousal chromosomes.

We need to step back and educate the rising generation that marriage is a permanent bond between a man and a woman who are open to having and raising children. Our efforts to re-convince the public of traditional marriage must cover all these points in order to succeed. We have our work cut out for us, since all 50 states allow unilateral no-fault divorce, the number of children born out of wedlock is surging, and 70 percent of millennials support the legalization of gay marriage.

Rather than continue to fight solely on one front, we should target all policies that undermine traditional marriage. Surrogacy laws, divorce laws, and adoption laws, for example, must come under the fold of a broader marriage strategy focused on keeping the nuclear family intact.

Finally, we need to convince people that marriage is a good thing, not a life-ender. Our messaging should be positive and preemptive, rather than negative and defensive. When the most effective ads for traditional marriage are my friends’ creative and edgy wedding videos on Facebook, we should explore this frontier. We should tell the beautiful stories of long-lasting and happy marriages in a strategic public-relations campaign using memes, YouTube, and billboards.

There is a path forward for winning hearts for traditional marriage at the state level. But it will require those forging it to get back to basics for a while.

— Ashley E. McGuire is editor of altcatholicah and a senior fellow at the Catholic Association.


Supporters of traditional marriage were dismayed by the Supreme Court’s failure to uphold marriage as the union of a man and a woman in the Prop 8 and DOMA cases. However, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins is rightly relieved that “the court today did not impose the sweeping nationwide redefinition of marriage that was sought.”

So far, twelve states have redefined marriage to allow same-sex unions. A few more may do so, but the vast majority of states will not change their laws or constitutions that limit marriage to one man and one woman.

Sadly, traditional marriage is in decline. Divorce rates are high. Cohabitation is soaring, and it has eroded marriage. Women regard cohabitation as a step toward marriage, but men cohabit to avoid committing to it. Only a fifth of cohabiting couples marry. Pastors perpetuate this problem by marrying cohabiting couples — instead of requiring them to move apart and take a rigorous course in marriage preparation.

In order to save traditional marriage, houses of worship should join in creating a Community Marriage Policy with five major reforms:

• Offer a better way to test the relationship by taking a premarital inventory and discuss results with trained Marriage Mentor Couples. In our home church, Mentor Couples we trained prepared 288 couples for marriage in the 1990s. Fully 58 couples — 20 percent — decided not to marry. Studies suggest they avoided a bad marriage before it began. But of the 230 couples who did marry, we know of only 16 divorces. That’s a 93 percent success rate over two decades — virtual marriage insurance!

• Enrich existing marriages with annual getaways, such as 10 Great Dates, in which couples watch a brief DVD and then have a date to discuss such topics as Resolving Honest Conflict and Becoming an Encourager.

• Restore troubled marriages with couples whose own marriages once nearly failed.

• Reconcile separated couples by offering a course the committed spouse can take with a friend of the same gender, such as Marriage 911, to help him or her grow and attract back the errant mate.

• Save stepfamilies, who divorce at a 70 percent rate, by creating Stepfamily Support Groups, which save 80 percent of them.

Marriage Savers has helped more than 10,000 churches create Community Marriage Policies in 229 cities. On average, city-wide divorce rates fell 17.5 percent, saving 100,000 marriages, according to an independent study. Cohabitation rates also fell by one-third.

Community Marriage Policies can help diverse churches forge healthy, long-lasting marriages, a safe place for children to grow.

— Mike McManus is president of Marriage Savers.



From a legal standpoint, the Supreme Court’s decision on DOMA is extraordinary and far-reaching. Our entire legal history and tradition regarding marriage continues to be dismantled. Nobody can know what will come from redefining thousands of federal statutes and regulations — wherever the words “marriage” or “spouse” appear. It will take decades to know the ultimate legal consequences.

But there is a deeper meaning. We have been engaged in a great struggle for the soul of our society, and the souls of individuals. The battleground has been over the nature and significance of marriage, and why people should choose marriage as the centerpiece of their lives. We have long been contending against a hostile culture.

This task will go on, regardless of whatever the law might be. Families, schools, and churches will all continue to teach the authentic meaning of marriage — one man, one woman, lifelong, faithful, and inherently oriented to having children. But the terms of engagement have dramatically changed. The Court’s ruling will make our mission more difficult, by branding the real meaning of marriage as mere bigotry, hatred, and irrationality. 

In a way, though, this may enable us to become more effective teachers. The big lie at the heart of the Supreme Court’s decision — that same-sex relationships are the same as real marriages — cannot ultimately gain sway over the hearts of people. It is false, and deep in our hearts we know it. And it will only highlight the contrast between the false values of a corrupted society and legal system, and the true virtues of authentic, loving married couples.

The law is a great teacher, and this Supreme Court decision teaches a lie. But the truth about marriage will continue to be attractive to people, who always prefer truth to lies.

Edward T. Mechmann, a former prosecutor, is director of public policy at the Archdiocese of New York.


The Supreme Court’s Defense of Marriage Act decision is the flower girl in the wedding march of same-sex marriage. Here come the brides, and the grooms, and a whole lot more. 

The same logic that led from Griswold v. Connecticut to Roe v. Wade will lead from the expansive language of equal protection in this ruling to the push for same-sex marriage in all 50 states. With that will come, I predict, the most protracted contest over religious liberty and freedom of conscience since the First Amendment disestablished the state churches. 

Despite this rather gloomy forecast, I don’t take a “slouching toward Gomorrah” read on our marriage future. This is partly because I believe in the resilience of natural marriage, and partly because I think the push for same-sex marriage isn’t really about marriage at all, at least not marriage in anything but name. Putting aside the professional activist community for a moment, most gay and lesbian Americans really believe legal recognition will grant them the same sort of union their parents had. Because I think sexual complementarity is of the essence of the one-flesh union, I don’t think this will happen. In the aftermath of the disappointment sexual libertarianism brings, there will be a time for a new word about more permanent things, such as marriage as a permanent, conjugal, one-flesh reality between a man and a woman. 

The marriage debates will prove trying for those of us who believe marriage is something other than a civil contract and a “celebration of love.” Catholic and Evangelical and Orthodox Christians, along with Orthodox Jews and Muslims, will seem increasingly freakish in American culture. But with that comes the opportunity to turn back from our own slow-train sexual-revolutionary ways. 

The Bible Belt marrying parson who marries whosoever will show up and rent his church, his day is over. The gelatin-spined neighborhood priest who hitches the cohabiting couple and hopes to see them at church for their children’s first communions, his time is up. In a day when churches must fight for the cultural freedom to define marriage, laissez-faire wedding policies, and the nominalism that goes with them, are done for, and good riddance. 

Sure, there will be some nuns-on-the-bus types calling for marriage equality. And we will always have those mainline Protestants who dress up as Evangelicals in order to reach a marketing niche. But the churches won’t capitulate, because we can’t. To dispense with marriage is to dispense with a mystery that points to the Gospel itself, the union of Christ and his church, as the Apostle Paul says to the church at Ephesus. 

Again, this will seem freakish and nasty and bigoted. Marriage will decline, and children will be hurt, because the marginalization of marriage always empowers predatory men. But the Gospel flourished in places known for temple prostitutes and gladiator fights, and it still stands. As churches recover healthy marriage cultures, and contrast these with the sexually libertarian carnival around them, there will be a time for a new conversation about men and women, and mothers and fathers, and the meaning of sex and life. 

Our task, between now and then, is to keep lit the way to those old, old paths.

— Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention


Okay, I get it. I’m a mean, hateful person, animated only by unlawful animus against gay people, because I voted for Proposition 8. I continue to believe in it, in spite of all the public lecturing and admonishment I’ve received since 2008. How Justice Kennedy and the Court know my feelings, why they think it is their business to inquire about my feelings, I do not know. But never mind. The Court has spoken.

Here is what I want to know: Does the Supreme Court in its DOMA incarnation really believe that marriage has literally nothing to do with procreation? Why should the government should take any interest at all in sexual relationships, unless those relationships have at least the potential to produce helpless children? Is the Supreme Court really prepared to go to Anacostia, where whole neighborhoods have no fathers, and tell people that children don’t need a mother and a father? Does the Supreme Court really think it is supporting “equality” by telling some children that they are not legally entitled to a relationship with their mothers and fathers, to know their genetic and cultural heritage, while other children do have that entitlement?

Does the Supreme Court in its Prop 8 incarnation really think that there is anything left of the citizens’ initiative process after they have gutted it? What recourse does the Court think that citizens have when their elected officials refuse to do their constitutionally sworn duty?

The Supreme Court has reduced the institution formerly known as marriage to a government registry of friendships. And the Supreme Court has reduced the citizens’ initiative process to a very expensive popularity contest that has no ability to alter the course of public policy.

Not a bad day’s work of empowering the state and attacking the institutions of civil society.

— Jennifer Roback Morse is the founder and president of the Ruth Institute.


Here is marriage, considered in context. A young man and woman remain chaste, and they have the virtue of “purity” (an old-fashioned word, but it is real). As a result, they have joy, and an ideal of the complete gift of self is readily understandable to them. They fall in love but do not “date” so much as “court” with reverence, each viewing the other as an almost divine gift.

They don’t have the baggage that comes with sleeping around. They don’t cohabitate. They don’t think that oral sex is a sign of love, or even that it’s sex.

The death to self and complete binding of each to the other which they gleefully accept on their wedding day makes it also easy for them to accept their complete and total binding to a child for life, who incarnates their love into a single being. That is to say, they are “open to life.” They so cherish their bond that they have no private good except what comes through their union, and they place the safeguarding of that bond so high that it is a priority, for them, equivalent to faith, honor, religion, worship, and life itself.

I know that half of you reading this suspect I’m a lunatic even for writing in this way. I also know, as I am well read, that what I describe is in Shakespeare and other classical authors and, in Christendom, it used to be something like the ordinary experience of (how can I put it?) people who were well brought up. (Think: Song of Songs.)

Paying no attention to the Supreme Court, we must say that what I describe is lived today, is even attainable, by only a handful of persons. Yet, anyone who understands historic Christianity, and is well read, must hold (I think) that it would be desirable for culture once again to make such a way of life generally attainable.

But a culture cannot be created or sustained by a single person; it can barely be kept alive by a family; and it certainly cannot be created or transmitted without sound education. So, the immediate path forward for marriage, regardless of the Supreme Court, is the creation and fostering of institutions where modesty and purity are practiced with full confidence and self-knowledge.

The Supreme Court’s decisions are noteworthy only for confirming, in irreversible law (because on a constitutional basis) what was already the practice, trend, and effect of an alternative culture that had its immediate origin in the 1950s and ’60s.

Michael Pakaluk is professor and chairman of the department of philosophy at Ave Maria University.



The two decisions yesterday turned out as the general consensus on both sides thought they would. Curiously, you could see Team Reiner lowering their expectations of what the Court would do just after oral arguments.

The big news from the decisions is this: The Court struck a strong blow to the “marriage equality” rhetoric. The justices were not persuaded by the “fundamental civil right” and “we are just asking for full citizenship” talking points from the marriage-redefinition folks. That is profoundly significant. It is precisely the argument that the two lawyers arguing the case consistently and routinely made. This Court, the ultimate voice in our nation for guaranteeing the basic civil rights of all our citizens, didn’t buy it, supported in its opinion by some key moderate and liberal justices. It is not the obvious, self-evident conclusion that so many cultural elites, including our president, say it is.

The Washington Post vainly opined numerous times recently (here and here, for instance) that the “political fight over gay marriage is over.” That line of thinking got a cold slap on the cheek yesterday.

The decision on Prop 8 also dramatically sobers the “it’s inevitable” trope. Homosexual marriage is inevitable only if the Court chooses to “Roe v. Wade” it. But the Court chose not to. For now, each state will continue to fight this out case by case, and passionately so. Marriage redefinition is indeed inevitable in some states, such as Massachusetts and New York, because it already exists. It’s not inevitable in states like Wyoming, North Dakota, and Georgia. Far from it. Every state that does not have it today is an open question and our democracy will fight it out.

So both the “marriage equality” and the “it’s inevitable” assumptions should be seen for what they are: political rhetoric, not obvious facts. The Supreme Court of the United States revealed that yesterday, and did so across the Court’s ideological differences.

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



Marriage in America has been on an unsustainable trajectory for quite some time. While yesterday’s ruling certainly did nothing to mitigate our cultural race away from what marriage has always been known to be, it also did less than it might have to further it. These Supreme Court decisions are significant as to the legal understanding of marriage, but the cultural understanding of marriage is even more significant in driving the future of marriage. This future, by all accounts, will depend primarily on our collective imagination.

Simply put, far too many citizens cannot imagine marriage to be anything other than the government’s endorsement of romantic love. Even many opponents of same-sex marriage share this fundamentally wrong definition when thinking about issues like divorce and cohabitation. The redefinition of marriage along exclusively romantic lines happened because of art, not arguments; because of imagination, not debates.

That sort of love is, as even the movies tell us, quite fickle. It won’t hold up under the weighty foundational role marriage must play for a society. Thus the future of marriage depends on our ability to recapture the imagination of our culture with a more robust and stable definition of the purpose and function of marriage.

Still, the fate of marriage doesn’t lie in Hollywood’s making different movies, but in the intermediate institutions that most fundamentally shape our imaginations, especially the home and the church. Between sweeping federal legislation and individuals lie these powerful protections, if pastors and parents will play their part.

I’d suggest that national same-sex marriage is quite likely, but not inevitable. In trying to avoid a sweeping Roe-like decision, the Court left significant space for citizens to work at the state and, even more, local levels. This is good news, and reflects the potential for the best sort of change: from the ground up rather than the top down.

— John Stonestreet is a speaker and a fellow at the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

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