The debate over the definition of marriage has unfolded across America and at the federal level for the past several years. But what is the debate really about, how does it affect society and what is at stake in the outcome of the fight?
Many people mistakenly believe that proposals to allow same sex marriage are about allowing a new, different and separate form of marriage to coexist alongside traditional marriage. They envision it as a different expression of the same marriage institution they have always known.
However, that is a fundamental misunderstanding of the legal issues involved.
What is at stake are two complete definitions of marriage. One definition advocated by gay marriage activists would redefine marriage as the union of any two people regardless of gender, with the law treating the parties’ genders as irrelevant to the meaning of marriage. The other definition is that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
Under the law, one definition of marriage could not exist alongside the other. Only one of the competing definitions would legally exist. A Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy review noted that “. . .once the judiciary or legislature adopts the union of any two persons as the legal definition of civil marriage, that conception becomes the sole definitional basis for the only legal sanctioned marriage that any couple can enter into, whether same sex or man-woman. Legally sanctioned genderless marriage, rather than peacefully coexist with traditional one man-one woman marriage, actually displaces and replaces it.”
Why has virtually every society throughout history defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman? The answer can be summarized in one word – children.
Protecting the interests of children is the primary reason that government regulates and licenses marriage. After all, government does not license or regulate any other form of intimate relationship – not friendship, or dating, or cohabitation. People are free, under the law, to live as they choose, cohabitate with whomever they choose and engage in sexually intimate relationships with whomever they choose – all without any governmental recognition or regulation. Marriage is a special relationship reserved exclusively for heterosexual unions because only the intimate relationship between men and women has the ability to produce children as a result of that sexual union.
Marriage serves a vital and universal societal purpose – to channel biological drive and sexual passion that might otherwise become socially destructive into enduring family units that have the best opportunity to ensure the care and education of any children produced by that biological drive and sexual passion. Indeed, the United States Supreme Court has said that marriage is “fundamental to the very existence and survival of the human race.” The noted British philosopher Bertrand Russell, a liberal anti-war activists and socialist said “But for children, there would be no need of any institution concerned with sex. . . It is of children alone that sexual relations become of importance of society, and worthy to be taken cognizance of by a legal institution.”
By encouraging men and women to marry, society helps ensure that children will be known by and cared for by their biological parents. Whenever a child is born, her mother will almost always be nearby. But the same cannot always be said of her father. Men, especially, are encouraged to take responsibility for their children through the institution of marriage. Marriage is society’s mechanism of increasing the likelihood that children will be born and raised by the two people responsible for bringing them into the world – their mother and father.
While death and divorce too often prevent it, the overwhelming body of social science evidence establishes that children do best when raised by their married mother and father. Simply stated, children need both a mother and a father. No matter one’s view of homosexual marriage, it is undeniable that every child born into a same sex relationship is intentionally denied the love and affection of one of her biological parents.
David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values and a self-described liberal Democrat, said of marriage: “Marriage is a gift that society bestows on its next generation. Marriage (and only marriage) unites the three core dimensions of parenthood – biological, social and legal – into one pro-child form: the married couple. Marriage says to a child: The man and woman whose sexual union made you will also be there to love and raise you. Marriage says to society as a whole: For every child born, there is a recognized mother and father, accountable to the child and to each other.”
Fundamentally, same sex marriage advocates propose to shift the marriage paradigm away from what definition of marriage is best for society, especially for children, and squarely onto the desires of the individual adults who seek to marry. Under a genderless definition of marriage, the interests of children, and therefore society’s intrinsic interest in marriage, is eliminated entirely. Only the wishes of the two adults in question matter.
When a court or a legislature adopts a genderless definition of marriage, legal experts warm (and actual experience from other states and countries conforms) that there will be profound consequences for society. Those people who refuse to accept this redefinition of marriage will be punished by law. Churches and religious organizations can lose their tax exemptions and be forced to abandon their core moral principles or face punishment. Individuals, small businesses and groups will be subjected to lawsuits and regulatory action if they refuse to condone the “new” understanding of marriage. Perhaps most profoundly, children at a very young age will be taught in school that marriage is between any two adults, no matter what they have been taught at home, in church or in their ethnic traditions. Under the law, those who believe otherwise will be treated as the legal and moral equivalent of bigots.
44 States hold this definition of traditional marriage and never has any state that allowed its citizens to vote on the issue voted to legalize gay marriage. The states that have gay marriage have had it imposed by activist judges or legislatures out of touch with their people. In two cases, after judges or politicians legalized gay marriage, voters overturned those actions.
The federal definition of marriage is also one man and one woman and was adopted by a bi-partisan majority in Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
Marriage as the union of one man and one woman is in the public good. It serves the interests of men and women, of children, and of society itself.
Maryland Marriage Alliance