Our View: Marriage under fire

Posted: March 26, 2013

Proponents of same-sex marriage are flying high these days. They view the success of their cause — i.e., the marital union of same-gender couples and, by logical extension, who knows what else — as inevitable.

This, in our mind, begs an obvious question: If said satisfaction is inevitable, then why the need to challenge California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court? Oral arguments in both cases will take place today and Wednesday before the Supreme Court.

This past decade has witnessed a lamentable erosion in the consensus on marriage as an institution. Nine states and the District of Columbia now recognize same-sex marriage whereas none did at the turn of this current century. Last year, voters in three states — Maine, Maryland, and Washington — signaled their approval.

Why then has impetus switched to the courts? Advocates say the traditional oneman, one woman definition of marriage — as affirmed by DOMA and then reaffirmed by the residents of California — violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law. If this truly were the nexus of their argument, it seems to us their aims might be achieved short of eviscerating what The Weekly Standard’s Andrew Ferguson calls “an ancient practice grooved by tradition and myth, shaped by social expectations as old as civilization.” In other words, why not push for contractually binding civil unions?

The intent, though, appears far more radical, and that is to circumvent the evolution of consensus — that is, if desire for such a change is actually ascendant — and instead implement by judicial fiat a hubristic reinterpretation of an institution recognizing, in Mr. Ferguson’s words, “the natural sexual complementarity of woman and man,” one that “formalizes the possibility of procreation and the renewal of life.”

Such heavy lifting — the accumulated wealth of generations — should not, we believe, be entrusted to nine men and women. Judicial caution is advised as the court ponders myriad amicus briefs, some of which are grounded in social science so incomplete as to be purely speculative about the effects of such a change. And, so likewise, judicial discretion and, yes, humility is desired, if only out of recognition of this notion: If tradition is to be sundered — and we pray it is not — then such a task is best left to the people and their chosen representatives.

That’s what is truly at stake here. Now what remains to be seen is whether the Roberts Court will do for marriage what the Burger Court did for unborn life — devalue it and thereby initiate protracted strife over its meaning.