President Obama seems to have reiterated his support for redefining marriage in his inauguration speech earlier this week. Riffing on the Declaration of Independence, Obama declared that “[o]ur journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law—for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” But if this appeal to equality was meant as support for redefining marriage, it both gets marriage wrong and the Declaration’s pledge of equality wrong, too.
All Americans stand equally before the law and have their civil rights equally protected—all have equal protection for their rights to free speech, religious liberty, free association, and every other traditional civil liberty. The question is whether a new “civil right”—the right to have the government and private citizens recognize your same-sex sexual partnership as a marriage—ought to be created, redefining marriage in the process.
“The love we commit to one another,” just as such, is none of the government’s business. The government isn’t in the business of affirming our loves. Rather it leaves consenting adults free to live and love as they choose.
Contrary to what some say, there is no ban on same-sex marriage. Nothing about it is illegal. In all 50 states, two people of the same sex can choose to live together, choose to join a religious community that blesses their relationship, and choose a workplace offering them various joint benefits. Many liberal houses of worship and progressive businesses have voluntarily decided to do so. There’s nothing illegal about this. There’s no ban on it.
What’s at issue is whether the government will recognize such relationships as marriages—and then force every citizen and business to do so as well. At issue is whether policy will coerce and compel others to recognize and affirm same-sex relationships as marriages.
Being created equal doesn’t entail or require redefining marriage. Every marriage policy draws lines, leaving out some types of relationships. But equality forbids arbitrary line-drawing. Determining which lines are arbitrary requires us to answer two questions:
1) What is marriage?
2) Why does it matter for policy?
Reflecting on these questions reveals why there’s nothing “equal” about redefining marriage to eliminate the norm of sexual complementarity. Indeed, there are many good reasons why citizens in 41 states have said over and over that marriage is between a man and a woman. Marriage exists to bring a man and a woman together as husband and wife to be father and mother to any children their union produces. And as ample social science has shown, children tend to do best when reared by their mother and father.
Government recognizes marriage because it is an institution that benefits the public good. Marriage is society’s least restrictive means to ensure the well-being of future citizens. State recognition of marriage protects children by incentivizing adults to commit permanently and exclusively to each other and their children.
In fact, French citizens—including a number of LGBT leaders—are coming to the same conclusions about marriage:
In France, a repeating refrain is “the rights of children trump the right to children.” It is a pithy but forceful philosophical claim, uttered in voices ranging from gay mayor “Jean-Marc” to auteur Jean-Dominique Bunel, who revealed in Le Figaro that two lesbians raised him. For most of France, LGBT rights cross the line when they mean that same-sex couples have a “right” to children—something that both France’s grand rabbi, Gilles Bernheim, and Louis-Georges Barret, Vice President of the Christian Democratic Party, have refuted as a right at all.
While respecting everyone’s liberty, government rightly recognizes, protects, and promotes marriage between a man and woman as the ideal institution for procreative love, childbearing, and child-rearing. Recognizing that we are all created equal doesn’t challenge this historic understanding.