For at least the past 2,000 years, marriage has been defined as the union of one man and one woman in Christian cultures. But the definition has not been universal in all cultures or at all times. Islam allows polygamy. Historically, Jewish men were allowed to have more than one wife -- as Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon did -- though the practice was banned among Ashkenazi Jews a thousand years ago and is not practiced today even among Sephardim. And in the American context, Mormons practiced polygamy until giving it up in order for Utah to be admitted as a state.
Nonetheless, until quite recently, all societies have insisted that marriage entail at least one male and one female. There are no exceptions by any society until the late 20th century. Now plaintiffs are arguing that the Supreme Court should declare a fundamental right grounded in the U.S. Constitution for same-sex couples to marry. I think that would be unwise.
But that does not mean I believe the court should uphold the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples whose marriages are recognized in a handful of states. Nor does it follow that the high court should necessarily reverse lower court decisions striking down an amendment to the California constitution defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, which voters in the state passed through popular referendum (52 percent to 48 percent).
A majority of Americans now accept same-sex marriage, as do an overwhelming majority of young Americans, by 80 percent in some recent polls. Given that the civil institution of marriage reflects the values of the society, it is hard to imagine that same-sex marriages will not become legal in many if not most states within a short time frame. If the court strikes down DOMA, as I believe it will, even those states that deny same-sex couples the right to marry in their state would be forced to grant spousal rights to couples married in other states, just as they do heterosexual couples.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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