Friday’s 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court redefined marriage by the slimmest of majorities. And in a critical portion of the opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy effectively reduced marriage to the equivalent of a Lifeline Medical Alert: “Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there. It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.”

This formulation of marriage — and much of the opinion itself — focuses neither on children nor families. It fails to acknowledge that marriage has long been distinguished from all other friendships and relationships in that, as the authors of the book What is Marriage? wrote, it is “uniquely apt for, and enriched by, reproduction and childbearing.” It even wholly disregards Kennedy’s earlier admission, citing Confucius, that the marriage institution “lies at the foundation of government.”

The Supreme Court’s decision does not usher in an era of marriage “equality.” Rather, it ushers in an era of marriage irrelevancy, at least in a legal sense.

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The decision reflects the justices’ conclusion — well, five of them anyway — that the long-recognized purpose of marriage is either (1) no longer effectual or (2) no longer palatable in light of our overarching societal value of self-fulfillment, at the expense of all else. As to the former, it remains undeniable that the lifelong union of one man and one woman is good for society. We are therefore left with the latter.

All this to say, the Supreme Court essentially has held that marriage no longer matters. And it is for this reason that marriage matters all the more. Just as one is most acutely aware of his need for oxygen when his air supply is cut off, we as a society will come face to face with the societal value of marriage in the wake of the Supreme Court’s disregard for its distinctive value.

Marriage is the institution that blends two complementary individuals into a cooperative unit for the purpose of fostering the only environment for the natural birth of children and the optimum environment for children to grow into productive members of society. This is why government got into the marriage business, and it is precisely why government is not in the friendship business.

When a marriage produces children, those children benefit from the emotional and financial support available from both mother and father. Children benefit from the inherent differences between men and women. Mothers and fathers contribute in different ways to the emotional, mental and physical development of children.

Children from intact homes with a mother and father have fewer emotional and behavioral problems, statistically lower rates of poverty and incarceration and higher levels of education — unsurprising facts, based on science, the natural order and common sense. All this results in greater contributions to society and, accordingly, less of a burden on government. Marriage matters. 

In contrast, the vision of marriage that five members of the Supreme Court endorsed on Friday is not about selfless commitment to a lifelong partnership that produces children and provides them with both their mother and their father; it is an adult-focused pursuit of personal emotional fulfillment, for however long that feeling persists.

The problem is that emotion-driven Hallmark platitudes (with which the majority’s opinion abounds) may make for a nice greeting card, but they produce a society that’s fallen and — without a shift in thinking — won’t get up.

 

Gottry is legal services liaison with Alliance Defending Freedom, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the marriage cases at the U.S. Supreme Court.