As a Christian and a conservative -- in that order -- I’m pleased with the results of Tuesday’s election in North Carolina, where voters passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. As the foundational institution of nearly all human cultures, the relationship through which we create and raise the healthiest and most resilient next generation, marriage as it has been understood for millennia is a good that benefits us all.
I am less pleased, as you might imagine, with President Barack Obama’s announcement Wednesday that he has changed his position and now personally supports same-sex marriage. This is obviously a hot-button political issue on which there is much disagreement nationwide, and people of good faith with come to different conclusions. But the presidency comes with a bully pulpit that ought to be used with respect for the will of the people --and the will of the people on this issue is crystal clear.
North Carolina is the 32nd state- out of 32 that have voted -- to protect marriage by a vote of the people. You read that right. Every time the issue of protecting traditional marriage (31 times via constitutional amendment) has been put before the men and women government is meant to serve, it has passed. In “conservative” states like Mississippi, Utah and the Dakotas; “liberal” states like California and Hawaii; and those more ideologically up-for-grabs states like Florida, Michigan and Ohio, which routinely prove to swing presidential elections.
The perfect average of passage is a powerful statement about the will of the American people on this issue and their desire to safeguard the well-being of children. Unfortunately, neither their will nor their desire have been respected in some jurisdictions by a court system Thomas Jefferson once warned us views a foundational document like a constitution as “a mere thing of wax … which they may twist and shape into any form they may please.” California is the most notable example, a federal district court judge declaring Proposition 8 unconstitutional in 2010. An additional three courts have invalidated marriage-protection laws passed by state legislatures.
It is precisely because of the politically hypercharged nature of the issue -- as evidenced by the wall-to-wall media coverage of President Obama’s statement Wednesday -- that U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia has said it is not a matter on which the judiciary should be, in effect, making law rather than interpreting it. “Such questions should be settled by Congress or state legislatures beholden to the people,” Scalia said in a 2005 speech at Chapman University. “I am questioning the propriety, indeed the sanity, of having a value-laden decision such as this made for the entire society by unelected judges.”
Perhaps the most salient words to take a deeper look at in Justice Scalia’s comment are “for the entire society.” It is often argued, by those who oppose amendments like North Carolina’s, that to protect marriage is to persecute gays and lesbians. But at the root of that contention is an illogical assumption: that you can’t be “for” marriage unless you’re “against” homosexuals. That is simply not true.
My support for traditional marriage is not rooted in distaste or dislike for anyone; on the contrary, I have taken no small amount of “friendly fire” from Christian conservatives for exhorting fellow believers to ratchet down the rhetoric when it comes to our policy advocacy on issues surrounding homosexuality, to treat every human being with the dignity and respect their being created in God’s image demands. Name-calling and mean-spirited glibness have no place in the way we engage the public square.
But the role of government is to do what is best for its people - all its people. Throw out the orthodox Christian understanding that God designed marriage as a holy union between husband and wife (an understanding I embrace) if you want; what remains are reams of social science data, and the experiences of generations of Americans, that the most stabilizing and enriching environment a child can grow up in is a home headed by his or her married mother and father. And since the health of any society depends on the health of those who comprise it, it is the responsibility of government to enact laws that offer the best chance for health to be passed from one generation to the next. Traditional marriage is that best chance of creating a building block for a thriving society.
From a research perspective, there is no reliable data on whether gay couples offer as strong an environment for children. Rather, we rely on the research that has been done over decades in support of the notion that “children do best when raised by their two married, biological parents.”
The American people, as evidenced again Tuesday in North Carolina, understand that truth. Let’s hope their decision is allowed to stand and not rendered moot by a court superseding the duties enumerated to it by the U.S. Constitution. If not, we’ll see another disturbing example of what Jefferson, who helped envision and write that Constitution, recognized as uniquely dangerous to our way of government and way of life.
“The opinion,” he wrote in 1804, “which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional, and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action, but for the legislature and executive also, in their spheres, would make the judiciary a despotic branch.”
Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family.