WASHINGTON — Last week, U.S. district court Judge John Jones III struck down Pennsylvania‘s law baring same-sex “marriage.”
“In future generations, the label same-sex 'marriage' will be abandoned, to be replaced simply by 'marriage,'” Jones wrote in a May 20 ruling. “We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.”
Pennsylvania is now the 19th state, along with the District of Columbia, to permit same-sex couples to marry, with another district court judge in Oregon overturning that state’s law in a May 19 ruling. Judge Jones’ sweeping dismissal of laws defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman reflects a steady shift in legal, political and cultural views about the meaning and purpose of marriage.
Opponents of same-sex “marriage” attacked the pair of rulings as the latest example of raw judicial activism.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, the U.S. bishops’ point man on marriage, sharply criticized the rulings in Oregon and Pennsylvania that overturned marriage laws enacted by state voters.
“We stand in solidarity with the Oregon and Pennsylvania Catholic Conferences and all the people of both states. These court decisions are travesties of justice,” said Archbishop Cordileone in a May 21 statement, which noted that Oregon’s attorney general “was derelict in her duties by refusing to defend a law she swore to uphold.”
But media coverage presented the news as further evidence of a sea change in public opinion. Pennsylvania, noted Bloomberg News, “the last Northeastern state to prohibit gay marriage, will let a judge’s ruling end the ban without a fight, as Gov. Tom Corbett follows others in conceding court losses.”
Indeed, the two latest federal court rulings injected a measure of urgency to preparations for the 2nd annual March for Marriage on June 19 in the nation's capital. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee will be a featured speaker at the march, which was established to educate the American public about the unintended consequences of redefining marriage, and to register broad resistance to changing the nation's marriage laws.
Further, Archbishop Cordileone’s allies in the marriage debate acknowledge that they are under intense pressure to reinvigorate their political and educational efforts and thus show they can still influence the discussion.
“Some people would like me and the millions of Americans who continue to believe that marriage is what societies have believed it to be throughout human history — a male-female union — to … accept the inevitable,” said Ryan Anderson, the author of What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, in an article posted on National Review Online.
“We must continue to witness to the truth about marriage, find new ways to make the reasoned case about what marriage is and work to protect our freedoms to do so for the next generation,” Anderson said, adding, “All of this must be done in service of the long-term goal of restoring a culture of marriage.”
Marriage Culture Shifting Quickly
Yet a decade after Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex “marriage,” the challenge of explaining the rich meaning and goals of a central social institution has never been greater. With "marriage equality" now firmly established in the northeast, activists say Southern states will be the next battleground.
Meanwhile, elite universities, the entertainment industry and a growing number of U.S. corporations have signaled their support for same-sex “marriage” as a matter of equality. And last year, Justice Anthony Kennedy authored a landmark ruling in United States v. Windsor, which found a part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional and accused the lawmakers who passed the bill of an irrational animus against people with same-sex attraction.
At the same time, scant attention has been paid to the steady decline of marriage in working and middle-class communities, with non-marital births now accounting for about 40% of the annual birth rate.
“We need policies and laws that encourage strong, permanent and faithful marriages and that help young people marry before having children. The ruling in Oregon is another unfortunate example of a serious step backward,” said Archbishop Cordileone.
Archbishop Cordileone and marriage experts like Maggie Gallagher have warned that any change in the nation’s marriage laws could accelerate the decline in marriage rates by severing the link between marriage and the raising and education of children.
But the culture is shifting quickly, with many young Americans viewing marriage as an emotional bond between consenting adults, rather than the foundation of family life. A March 2014 Pew Research Center survey found that “Millennials” were more likely to support same-sex “marriage” and less likely to marry by age 33 than previous generations.
Mark Regnerus, a University of Texas social scientist who has studied the impact of non-traditional households on children, offered the latest data on families headed by a husband and a wife.
“According to the 2012 American Community Survey (U.S. Census data), 0.5% of households are headed by same-sex couples, 10.1% are headed by single females with one or more of their own children in the household and 45.0% of households are headed by opposite-sex civily married couples,” Regnerus told the Register.
Intensifying Pro-Marriage Campaign
The rising acceptance of non-traditional households, combined with the cascade of court rulings striking down state laws that effectively barred same-sex “marriage,” have deepened the sense of urgency among activists and thinkers who oppose any changes to the nation’s marriage laws.
In his recent National Review article, Ryan Anderson emphasized that there was much work to be done —many Americans have never heard a compelling and rational argument for resisting the marriage-equality juggernaut.
Further, he suggested that a visible and effective campaign against the redefinition of marriage would be noticed by the justices, who would hesitate to impose same-sex “marriage” by judicial fiat if a large portion of the public was opposed it.
Anderson noted that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito “framed the debate as a contest between two visions of marriage — what he calls the ‘conjugal’ and ‘consent-based’ views.”
The conjugal view, Anderson’s article explained, approaches marriage as a “comprehensive, exclusive, permanent union that is intrinsically ordered to producing new life.” In contrast, the “consent-based idea that marriage is a commitment marked by emotional union.”
He noted, “Alito explained that the Constitution is silent on which of these substantive visions of marriage is correct. And, so, Alito said, the court should defer to democratic debate.”
Anderson acknowledged, however, that U.S. churches must do their part to offer a more effective catechesis on marriage, provide outreach to those with same-sex attraction, advocate for religious liberty and nurture strong marriages.
Focusing on Marriage Decline
But while Anderson has called for a more intensive campaign of engagement, the legal victories and rising public support for “marriage equality” have led some of his former allies to propose a retreat from the bruising partisan battle and a different strategy to refocus national attention on the decline of marriage among young Americans.
David Blankenhorn, the president of the Institute for American Values and a longtime proponent of a stronger marriage culture, announced in a 2012 op-ed in The New York Times that he would no longer fight same-sex “marriage.”
Now Blankenhorn has launched the Marriage Opportunity Project, which is designed to end the “conflict between gay rights and family values” by forging an alliance of pro-marriage and marriage-equality activists.
During an interview with the Register, Blankenhorn said that the debate on “marriage equality” has distracted U.S. leaders and ordinary voters from a more serious problem: “the hollowing out of marriage among middle-class and blue-collar America.”
Blankenhorn wants to identify economic and educational policies that could make marriage more attainable for low-income couples and discourage divorce. He reported that Charles Murray, an influential libertarian scholar and author of Coming Apart, an important study of family breakdown among low-income whites over the past half century, will help spearhead the Marriage Opportunity Project.
The decision to create a broad-based initiative that supports marriage for all couples reflects Blankenhorn’s hope that liberal thinkers and activists will get on board and lend support to a pro-marriage effort. In the past, he said, liberals often opposed such campaigns as an implicit attack on single mothers.
In short, the Marriage Opportunity Project marks a more pragmatic approach for a marriage scholar who once worked on the Bush administration’s pro-marriage policies.
“Speaking personally, all the reservations I had about same-sex marriage I still have,” he admitted.
“But I am trying to pay attention to where the country is and how to increase the likelihood that children will... wind up in a home with married parents.”
Refusing to Acquiesce
Maggie Gallagher, who once worked closely with Blankenhorn at the Institute for American Values, agrees that the debate on “marriage equality” has distracted policymakers from addressing the implosion of a once-stable marriage culture, though she also sees it as further evidence of a cultural priorities.
“Gay marriage, in my view, is a marker for how important we view sexuality and its relationship to procreativity,” Gallagher told the Register. “The demotion of the family from a central public importance to an individual choice is part of what are dealing with.”
But Gallagher is wary of new initiatives that seek to sidestep the culture wars by forming new political coalitions that require support for same-sex “marriage” as a social good.
“If supporting marriage requires us to support gay marriage, we cannot do this,” Gallagher said, while agreeing that broad action on the nation’s marriage crisis is desperately needed.
Ryan Anderson expressed similar caution about Blankenhorn’s project.
“It is very hard to promote marriage when you can’t say what marriage is or what it demands of spouses,” Anderson told the Register.
“It is very hard to say fathers are essential when you’ve redefined marriage to say fathers are optional.”
Anderson believes that the movement to defend marriage as a union of one man and one woman must look for fresh opportunities to move beyond its present terrain. But he strongly argues that growing legal and political support for “marriage equality” should not tempt opponents to acquiesce to a redefinition of marriage that accommodates same-sex unions.
“In the short run, the legal battle over the definition of marriage may be an uphill struggle,” said Anderson in his National Review article.
“But in the long run, those who defend marriage as the union of a man and woman will prove to be prophetic,” he added, in part, “because the logic of marriage redefinition ultimately leads to the dissolution of marriage into nothing more than a social mess of consenting adult love of manifold sizes and shapes.”
Joan Frawley Desmond is the Register’s senior editor.