On May 8, North Carolinians will have the same opportunity when they vote on a ballot measure that would amend the North Carolina constitution to protect marriage as one man and one woman.
Throughout history, and in the law of most jurisdictions in Americastill today, marriage has been understood as a natural institution involving the unique unions of men and women. Legal regulations and social norms concerning entry into and exit from marriage and the incidents and effects of marriage might have changed through time. However, until quite recently, “it was an accepted truth for almost everyone who ever lived, in any society in which marriage existed, that there could be marriages only between participants of different sex.” After all, only unions between individuals of different sexes can naturally produce children and, “but for children, there would be no need of any institution concerned with sex.”
Today, however, the debate about marriage includes not only whether and how to strengthen marriage but also, more fundamentally, what marriage is. That is the question North Carolina voters will decide on May 8.
As the debate about marriage continues, increasing numbers of Americans will be forced to confront and decide fundamental issues of law, morality, and culture. On the one side of this debate is the view that marriage as one man and one woman is a form of institutionalized bigotry no better than racism. In this view, it is unjust for the state not to bless same-sex unions with both the benefits and label of “marriage.” Private institutions and individuals who object to facilitating or expressing moral support for same-sex marriage could face potential civil liability and discrimination in access to government benefits. Too often, those who disagree with redefining marriage are also subject to public derision and even threats, intimidation, and other harms.
On the other side of this debate is the view that marriage is a natural institution that the state does not create but that the state should protect because of society’s civilizational interest in promoting childbearing and the faithfulness of spouses to each other and their dependent children. Proponents of the traditional understanding of marriage focus on the public purposes of marriage, not the private reasons individuals might choose to marry. They also defy intense stereotyping by articulating a wide range of nonreligious reasons for supporting a traditional marriage policy, including that redefining marriage will contribute to an expanded and more intrusive government role in private life. In this view, support for marriage as one man and one woman does not equal animosity against friends, family, and co-workers who experience same-sex attraction. Rather, support for marriage reflects a morally just and constitutionally valid social judgment that the unique union of a husband and wife should be accorded a unique status in culture and law and that doing so provides significant benefits to children and society.
As the U.S. Supreme Court recognized long ago, “the public is deeply interested” in maintaining the institution of marriage, because “it is the foundation of the family and of society,” and without it “there would be neither civilization nor progress.” Marriage remains just as important to society today.
State constitutional amendments play an important part in helping to strengthen marriage by:
- Protecting marriage from judicial activism in state courts,
- Settling the marriage question for state lawmakers,
- Reinforcing the understanding that marriage as one man and one woman is deeply rooted in American values, history, and traditions, and
- Demonstrating a strong public awareness that marriage as one man and one woman should be affirmatively protected in law.
In addition, efforts to defend the core meaning of marriage as having something to do with mothers, fathers, and children should be coupled with efforts to strengthen marriage in general.