Yesterday, the federal district court in Hawaii ruled that Hawaii’s definition of marriage as one man and one woman does not violate the U.S. Constitution.
This ruling comes as the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether to review multiple cases involving the issue of same-sex marriage and voters in Maryland, Minnesota, Maine, and Washington prepare to vote this fall on how marriage should be defined in those states.
In 1994, Hawaii lawmakers amended a state statute “to clarify the legislature’s intention that marriage should be limited to those of the opposite-sex.” In 1998, voters in Hawaii ratified an amendment to their state constitution that expressly states that the legislature “shall have the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples.”
In ruling yesterday that these laws do not violate the U.S. Constitution, the court explained the need for judicial restraint regarding whether to redefine marriage. “If the traditional institution of marriage is to be restructured,” the court explained, “it should be done by a democratically-elected legislature or the people through a constitutional amendment, not through judicial legislation that would inappropriately preempt democratic deliberation regarding whether or not to authorize same-sex marriage.”
The governor of Hawaii, providing yet another example of an executive official refusing to defend laws protecting marriage, refused to defend the constitutionality of Hawaii’s definition of marriage as one man and one woman. Instead, he left that task to the director of the State Department of Health.
Hawaii’s definition of marriage as one man and one woman was also defended by the Hawaii Family Forum, an intervening defendant represented by the national public interest law firm Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly the Alliance Defense Fund).
Society has strong reasons to protect marriage. Though not every husband and wife can or will create children, only a man and woman can create children and provide them with both a mother and a father. Marriage is society’s best means of ensuring that children will be born into intact families and raised by the mother and father who created them.
Individuals marry based on various private interests. The public interest in marriage, in contrast, is based directly on the role that marriage plays in creating and raising the next generation. Same-sex marriage breaks the essential connection between marriage, children, and the mothers and fathers who create them.
Same-sex marriage also puts the law on the wrong side of reality by claiming that marriage is something other than what it is: the union of husband and wife. Many kinds of relationships are meaningful and valuable to the individuals involved and even to the broader public. But that does not make them marriages. It is not irrational or bigoted for the law to recognize that marriage is a unique kind of relationship deserving a unique kind of status.
The marriage debate presents society with fundamentally different visions of what marriage is. By ruling that Hawaii’s definition of marriage does not violate the U.S. Constitution, the federal district court in Hawaii has enabled this debate to continue through political processes.