Civil Rights and Marriage
Ryan T. Anderson /
Earlier this week, Pew released a report showing that media coverage of the debate over the redefinition of marriage was biased by a factor of 5 to 1 in favor of same-sex marriage. The report also showed that for those supporting the redefinition of marriage “the central argument…was one of civil rights.” Even President Obama makes these arguments. With so much of the debate about marriage centering on civil rights, it’s important to think clearly about the issue.
All Americans stand equally before the law and have their civil rights equally protected. All have equal protection of their rights to free speech, religious liberty, free association, and every other traditional civil liberty. But there is no civil right for the government to redefine marriage. There is no civil right for the government to coerce all citizens into recognizing the consenting adult relationship of your choice as a marriage.
But plaintiffs challenging Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) have asserted just such a new “civil right”—the right to have the government and private citizens recognize their same-sex sexual partnerships as marriages. The Supreme Court’s opinions in these cases could determine whether such a new “civil right” ought to be created, redefining marriage in the process.
Some supporters of redefining marriage appeal to the civil rights movement and interracial marriage. They argue that laws defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman are unjust because that they fail to treat people equally—exactly like laws that prevented interracial marriage. Yet such appeals beg the question of what is essential to marriage. They assume that gender is as irrelevant as race in making policy about marriage.
But the relevance of gender to marriage is the exact question we need to debate, not preemptively discard without discussion as advocates of redefinition seem to do.
Marriage must be color-blind, but it cannot be gender-blind. The color of two people’s skin has nothing to do with marriage. But the sexual difference between a man and a woman is central to what marriage is. Men and women regardless of their race can unite in marriage, and children regardless of their race need moms and dads. To acknowledge such facts requires an understanding of what, at an essential level, makes a marriage.
By contrast, race has nothing to do with marriage, and racist laws kept the races apart—and that is a bad thing. Marriage unites the two halves of humanity—male and female—and that is a good thing.
While respecting everyone’s civil rights, government rightly recognizes, protects, and promotes marriage between a man and a woman as the ideal institution for procreative love, childbearing, and child-rearing. Recognizing that we are all created equal doesn’t challenge this historical understanding.
Whatever any individual American thinks about marriage, the courts shouldn’t redefine it. Marriage policy should be worked out through the democratic process, not dictated by unelected judges in an activist decision that has no grounding in the text or logic of our Constitution. When it decides the Prop 8 and DOMA cases, the Supreme Court should uphold the freedom of the American people and their elected representatives to make marriage policy.
For more answers to frequently asked questions in the marriage debate, download a copy of What You Need to Know about Marriage, an e-book available at TheMarriageFacts.com.