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The institution of marriage cannot be erased


Conservatives have ceded far too much ground to the forces of the sexual revolution. Yet on marriage, society’s most foundational institution, some Republicans are ready to give away more. Though history, scripture, the common law and scientific data tell us that traditional marriage is best for children and society as a whole, a bill pushed by congressional Democrats could soon have enough GOP support in the Senate to pass. 

Let’s be clear: Many on the left seem determined to destroy every institution upon which America is built — and their sights are aimed squarely at the family. While radical groups such as Black Lives Matter pledge to “disrupt” the nuclear family, even mainstream journalists such as New York Times columnist David Brooks say “the nuclear family was a mistake.” Motherhood has been reduced to a single androgynous event (“birthing people”); one father was even arrested for protesting the sexual assault of his daughter.  

And that’s what’s behind the ironically named “Respect for Marriage Act.” Its text contains so many infringements and encroachments on religious freedoms and on conscience that Republicans should unite solidly against it. 

For example, during oral arguments in the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision (which discovered a constitutional right to same-sex marriage), then-U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli conceded that if the court created a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, then “the tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question.” 

The bill would also require federal recognition of any one state’s definition of marriage without any parameters whatsoever. This would include plural marriages, temporary marriages, open marriages, marriages involving a minor or relative, platonic marriages, arranged marriages or any other novel marriage definition that a state legislature or state supreme court chooses to adopt. 

And it would effectively deputize activist groups to sue religious individuals and organizations that operate according to their sincerely held religious beliefs when licensed by the government, or partnering with government in grant programs or service contracts. 

The prophetic Justice Clarence Thomas predicted this in his dissent to Obergefell: “In our society, marriage is not simply a governmental institution; it is a religious institution as well,” he wrote. “Today’s decision might change the former, but it cannot change the latter. It appears all but inevitable that the two will come into conflict, particularly as individuals and churches are confronted with demands to participate in and endorse civil marriages between same-sex couples.” 

That came about when gay activists targeted small businesses such as bakers who declined to bake custom wedding cakes and web designers who didn’t want to make websites and registries celebrating same-sex couples — based on their sincerely held religious beliefs.

At what seemed to exceed the speed of light, we went from “live and let live” to a clear demand that we must not only accept but actively participate in and endorse whatever new practice or self-identification we are presented with no matter how bizarre.  

Under New York’s Human Rights Law, for example, the government tells us “the best practice is to refer to people with the term(s) they use to self-identify.”  

What’s more, the Obergefell decision invented a constitutional right to same-sex marriage out of thin air, when the U.S. Constitution allows states, not nine unelected judges, to be the primary drivers of policy. 

Republican senators who would rather duck the marriage fight may take misplaced comfort in polls that show an increased acceptance of same-sex marriage. But those polls, rather than showing a desperate need to codify same-sex or novel forms of marriage at the federal level, instead show no appreciable threat to the same-sex marriage status quo. So why the unseemly rush to pass a national same-sex marriage law now?  

Instead of addressing real problems, the bill creates new ones. Through its sweeping language and establishment of broad new enforcement and litigation mechanisms, the bill multiplies the threats against tens of millions of Americans who cannot in good faith endorse anything other than man-woman marriage. 

Yet marriage deserves our full-throated support, based on the simple facts alone. As Ryan Anderson has written, “Marriage is based on the truth that men and women are complementary, the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the reality that children need a mother and a father. Redefining marriage does not simply expand the existing understanding of marriage; it rejects these truths.” 

We’ve surrendered enough ground in the culture wars. This new bill has little to do with protecting rights; it’s an attack that sets the stage to take rights away, principally from people of faith, who honor the enduring truth about marriage. Our efforts now must be focused on rebuilding our indispensable institutions — and there is none more vital than marriage and the family. 

Kevin Roberts, Ph.D., is president of The Heritage Foundation. 

Tags Clarence Thomas Clarence Thomas David Brooks Donald Verrilli marriage equality Obergefell v. Hodges Same-sex marriage US Supreme Court

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