I agree with Justice Warren that marriage is a central ingredient in the pursuit of happiness. I disagree with LGBT activists about what “marriage” is. And it is very hard to have a reasonable or productive discussion when the two sides cannot agree on the definition of a central term. You and I may agree that it should be legal to walk a dog in a particular public park. But you may think that the term “dog” includes only domesticated members of the Canis lupus familiaris species, and I may think that the term “dog” can include large gray wolves. You may argue that “dog” should be defined by the laws and traditions that have governed dog ownership for generations, and I may feel that such an approach in unfair to people who want to walk wolves in the park. The point is that we cannot get anywhere until we agree on what a “dog” is.
Homosexuals are not being denied “marriage” rights any more than wolf enthusiasts are being denied dog-ownership rights. Last November, a federal appeals court in Nevada pointed out homosexuals are not, in fact, being denied the right to marry, as the term “marriage” has been long understood. A lesbian couple had sued the state, seeking to overturn Nevada’s ban on gay marriage under the Fourteenth Amendment. Wrote Judge Robert Jones:
Like heterosexual persons, they [homosexuals] may not marry members of the same sex. A homosexual man may marry anyone a heterosexual man may marry, and a homosexual woman may marry anyone a heterosexual woman may marry.
Judge Jones went on to point out that homosexuals have little cause to identify with historically oppressed minorities in the United States, observing that, “Homosexuals have not historically been denied the right to vote, the right to serve on juries, or the right to own property.” Judge Jones starts with the assumption, as we all should, that “marriage” means what it has always meant in America: the union of one man and one woman. If we begin with that reality, the notion that homosexuals are being denied equal protection under the law becomes absurd.
The point of traditional institutions like marriage is that they encourage adults to fulfill duties they do not always feel like doing. The societal pressure to marry has for many generations encouraged restless young men to get jobs, settle down and be responsible. But when “marriage” comes to mean nearly any romantic liaison, the incentive it provides for responsible behavior is weakened beyond repair.
Judge Jones rightly pointed out that the state has a legitimate interest in the protection of traditional marriage, and pointing out the risk that heterosexuals might “cease to value” the institution of marriage the more broad the term becomes. As the Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments in two cases concerning marriage, I hope they will follow Judge Jones’ lead, and rule in favor of traditional marriage.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.