Evolution and inevitability are words much in the news lately regarding same-sex marriage. The victory for marriage redefinition advocates in New York has sparked a new round of assertions that Americans can stop thinking about and debating this basic institution of civil society.
Vice President Joe Biden sounded a similar theme after the repeal of the military law on homosexual conduct last December. “Inevitability” is a hardy perennial, therefore, but hardly correct. The debate over marriage has entered a new phase, but it is nowhere near an endgame.
First, the redefinition of marriage in New York is not permanent even in the Empire State. It can be reversed by a future legislature or by a legislatively authorized referendum on the issue. The National Organization for Marriage—which was a key player in California’s popular vote to overrule legal approval of homosexual unions—plans a multi-million-dollar campaign in New York to restore traditional marriage via the ballot box. Despite gay activists’ claims of momentum, to date no popular majority in any U.S. jurisdiction has voted to adopt a same-sex marriage law.
Second, the next state-level fights over the definition of marriage are likely to occur in places where traditional marriage champions are very strong: Minnesota, Indiana, New Hampshire, and Iowa. Faced with gubernatorial resistance to their cause in New Jersey, marriage redefinition advocates are turning to the courts again. But most of these efforts have failed, and courts must reckon with the fact that the headwinds against marriage redefinition remain potent in the vast majority of the states.
Finally, the meaning of marriage and its significance to society are getting fresh attention as matters of both economic and social concern. Expunging marriage between a man and a woman from the law does not erase it from reality. Marriage is a pre-political institution whose decline in or absence from a community will define that community’s prospects and shape its ability to thrive.
In this sense, events in Albany may echo events in Boston eight years ago, when one state’s decision to impose same-sex marriage on the eve of an election year launched a national debate with enormous consequences. The stakes are even higher now. Informed elections, not the natural selection of “evolving” views, will play the larger part in determining whether same-sex marriage is inevitable or ephemeral.