Recent attacks on the institution of marriage disregard the importance of married mother-father households to child well-being and the necessity of defending the institution of marriage for the good of civil society. At this week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on a bill that would repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), panelists supporting traditional marriage outlined some of the many arguments for keeping the institution solely as a union between one man and one woman.
First, the panelists noted the government’s profound interest in sustaining the integrity of the institution of marriage because of the unique contribution a married mother and father make to child welfare. As Austin Nimocks, Senior Legal Counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, explained:
[B]ecause of the fundamental truth that children are the product of sexual relationships between men and women, and that men and women each bring something important and unique to the table of parenting, this government maintains a compelling interest in protecting and preserving the institution of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Tom Minnery, Senior Vice President of Focus on the Family, outlined the strong social science evidence that children are better adjusted psychologically and socially in married mother-father households than in any other family situation. He stated in written testimony, “[I]n all the ways we know how to measure child well-being, having a married mother and father is consistently shown to be the ideal family form across all important measures.”
But panelists in favor of repealing DOMA dismissed such evidence, asserting that children do not necessarily need to build relationships with both a mother and a father, but that care from any two adults could suffice. As Nimocks pointed out, however, “These advocates are asking the whole of society to ignore the unique and demonstrable differences between men and women in parenthood: no mothers, no fathers, just generic parents. But there are no generic people. We are composed of two complementary, but different, halves of humanity.”
The importance of current federal law extends beyond the need to uphold the unique benefits of traditional marriage to children and society. Panelists pointed out that DOMA also protects states’ rights. Ed Whelan, President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, explained DOMA’s role in protecting the principles of federalism:
“In Section 2 [of DOMA], Congress defends the prerogative of each state to choose not to treat as a marriage a same-sex union entered in another state….Section 2 of DOMA advances values of federalism by helping to ensure that one state does not effectively impose same-sex marriage on another state while at the same time preserving each state’s freedom to define its marriage laws.”
A significant majority (more than 63 percent) of voters in 31 states have exercised such freedom, defining marriage in their jurisdictions as between one man and one woman. Policymakers should respect voters’ collective wisdom in acknowledging the institution of marriage as a pre-political, foundational relationship that deserves protection in state and federal law.
As Heritage’s Chuck Donovan writes regarding the many reasons to affirm traditional marriage at the federal level, “As the nation seeks to regain its economic and social footing, it is time not to blur the meaning of marriage further but to rebuild it for the good of future generations.”