Authentic Respect for Marriage: Forget the ‘Respect for Marriage Act’

COMMENTARY: Redefining marriage was bad public policy in Obergefell in 2015 and it is bad public policy in HR 8404 today. Here is why.

The essential public purpose of marriage is to connect mothers and fathers to their children and to one another.
The essential public purpose of marriage is to connect mothers and fathers to their children and to one another. (photo: M-SUR / Shutterstock)

The authors of the cynically misnamed “Respect for Marriage Act” have whipped up hysteria over the possibility that the overturn of Roe v. Wade portends the immediate overturn of Obergefell v. Hodges

Acting on the philosophy of “never let a good crisis go to waste,” the Sexual Revolutionaries are trying to promote their agenda and stir up their base. Fair enough. Two can play this game. Allow me to state without fear or apology: Redefining marriage was bad public policy in Obergefell in 2015 and it is bad public policy in HR 8404 today. Here is why. 

The essential public purpose of marriage is to connect mothers and fathers to their children and to one another. All the stated purposes of the newly redefined concept of marriage are either private purposes or inessential purposes. 

A person can acquire health insurance, make a will and designate medical power of attorney without the institution of marriage. We don’t need an institution of marriage for people to make these legal provisions. These are inessential purposes of marriage. 

Likewise, a couple can have a big party for themselves and declare their love for each other without marriage. A person can feel good about themselves, boost their self-esteem or win the approval of their peers with or without marriage. These are private purposes of marriage. 

But the essential public purpose of marriage flows from an indisputable fact: Children need their parents. Every human being has a natural right to know the identity of the two people who brought him or her into life. And except for an unavoidable tragedy, children have a right to be in relationship with their parents. Removing the gender requirement for marriage undermines these basic human rights by demoting biology from its pride of place in the social and legal understanding of parenthood. 

Some people now say they favor so-called same-sex marriage, but they are horrified by transgenderism. I am glad they are horrified. However, I am not able to affirm the bright line they are trying to draw between the redefinition of marriage and the launch of the trans-juggernaut. 

The states that enthusiastically embraced genderless marriage moved quickly to rewrite public documents. States have replaced “Husband” and “Wife” on marriage licenses with “Spouse 1” and “Spouse 2.” States have replaced “Mother” and “Father” with “Parent 1” and “Parent 2” throughout family law. 

This gender-neutral, gender-erasing mentality shows up in social norms. Some people in opposite-sex relationships now refer to their “partner,” as opposed to their husband or wife. For instance, the wife of California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom refers to herself as “First Partner,” as opposed to the “First Lady” of California. 

I want to ask people such as secular conservatives or liberal Catholics who are alarmed by transgenderism, what were you thinking? I want to ask the pro-gay-marriage feminists and lesbians who are now battling transgenderism, did you really not know you were making marriage a genderless institution? 

Did it never occur to you that de-gendering marriage would, sooner or later, end up redefining and degendering parenthood, as well? Marriage and the birth and rearing of children are among the most gendered activities in any society. Once we’ve de-gendered marriage, the rest of society cannot be far behind. 

Maybe you did not predict the very quick pivot from “gay marriage” to “transgenderism.” But the large pro-LGBT advocacy organizations did more than predict this outcome. They actively redirected their resources from “gay marriage” to “transgenderism.” 

All the money, the political and social capital, the public opinion infrastructure accumulated for redefining marriage, turned on a dime to the de-gendering of the human body altogether. How do you feel now, those of you who contributed your money, your time and your loyalty to the cause of “marriage equality,” now that the capital you gave those advocacy groups is driving the transgender ship? 

Besides, the good that redefining marriage was supposed to do has not exactly materialized. There has literally been no “rush to the altar” by gays and lesbians. 

According to the Gallup organization, the percentage of LGBT adults who are married has held steady at 10% in the years since the Obergefell ruling. And even this overstates the significance of this radical legal change. More than half of those who identify as LGBT identify as bisexual. This same Gallup survey shows that most bisexuals are married to people of the opposite sex! So, the overall LGBT population is just as likely to be married to an opposite-sex partner as to a partner of the same sex.  

Evidently, people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender are getting along without getting married. 

Before Obergefell, we warned that schools would be normalizing gay marriage, gay relationships and gay identity. We were told we were hysterical and that wouldn’t happen and even if it did happen, it would be good. Since Obergefell, the schools are doing all that and much worse: Many schools are teaching a curriculum that destabilizes the idea of male and female, and are deliberately driving wedges between children and their parents’ values. Schools are deliberately helping children deceive their parents about their attempts to change their names and pronouns. Battles are raging at the federal and state level, because parents are fighting back. These battles would be unnecessary if the schools were really the innocent lambs we were assured they were. 

Most importantly, as a society we’ve done absolutely nothing to help ensure that children have lifelong relationships with their biological parents. We’ve further normalized the idea of surrogacy and gamete donation, practices that permanently separate children from their parents. The public understanding that children are entitled to a relationship with both of their parents has continued to deteriorate. 

The Ruth Institute, the organization I founded in 2008, has consistently and resolutely opposed the redefinition of marriage. For our trouble, we have been on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of “hate groups” since 2013. Yet the arguments we’ve made, and the cautions we’ve raised, have been vindicated by events. We’ve been ignored or ridiculed or worse. 

I don’t care. Kids need their parents. Therefore, grown-ups need to behave. That means we need personal self-control as individuals, and sensible institutions as a polity. We need an authentic renewal of respect for marriage as a lifelong, fruitful institution that protects the legitimate interests of children’s relationships with their parents. The “Respect for Marriage Act” is quite literally, the last thing we need.