The ups and downs of marriage

Posted: Jan 28, 2005 12:00 AM

For supporters of traditional marriage, 2004 was quite a roller-coaster ride. A series of court decisions ? in Hawaii, Alaska and Vermont, but most infamously in Massachusetts, where the Supreme Judicial Court declared that bans on same-sex "marriage" are "rooted in persistent prejudices against persons who are ... homosexual" ? were still sending shock waves throughout the country. Officials in San Francisco began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Suddenly we found ourselves arguing about the nature of an institution that, quite frankly, is the very bedrock of our civilization. And many advocates of so-called "gay rights" were only too happy to foment an attitude of lawlessness on the issue. Their goal: Turn same-sex "marriage" into a full-fledged civil right that then would have to be recognized at the highest levels of government.

The result, of course, would have been chaos. As my Heritage Foundation colleague Matthew Spalding put it in a Feb. 26, 2004, op-ed for the Washington Times, judges would have to "disregard thousands of years of custom and experience, flout the laws of every major society and thumb their noses at the beliefs of every major religious tradition."

Many of us who realized how devastating such an outcome would be ? that it would wreak havoc on all the other institutions that hold our country together ? began insisting that the only way to protect marriage was a constitutional amendment. But when the U.S. Senate voted last July on whether to consider such an amendment, many senators weren't convinced that an amendment was necessary, and it failed to pass.

Then, around election season, things began to change. Amendments to protect the traditional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman were on the ballot in 13 states (11 in November, two prior to that), and supporters of same-sex marriage pulled out the stops to defeat them. What happened? The amendments passed overwhelmingly in all 13 states. Even Oregon passed its amendment by 57 percent. And, as Spalding has noted, pro-marriage candidates won in every Senate race where marriage was a significant issue.

And let's recall the big exit-poll news of the 2004 election ? moral values. It wasn't the war on terrorism or the economy that propelled the highest number of voters to the polls. It was a deep-seated concern about the moral direction our country was taking, and the marriage issue clearly prompted most of this concern.

The good news, I'm happy to say, hasn't stopped there. Consider three state decisions handed down just last week: A Florida judge threw out a lawsuit filed by two women seeking to have their Massachusetts marriage recognized, upholding the federal 1996 Defense Of Marriage Act that lets states ban same-sex marriage. The Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the ruling of a judge who had thrown out a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. And the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that same-sex couples have no "right" to marry in that state.

The Indiana court went so far as to say that there is a "legitimate state interest" in supporting "opposite-sex marriage" because such couples "procreate responsibly and have and raise children within a stable environment." Hallelujah. That's exactly what's at stake here. Hearing such common sense spoken by a court is a welcome change, indeed.

All of which, paradoxically, makes this something of a dangerous time for supporters of traditional marriage.

Why? As Spalding notes, if we're not careful, we could be lulled into a sense of false security. Advocates of same-sex marriage aren't going away. Yes, they're reeling a bit now, and that's good. But it's not as if they'll never return. If anything, they've learned a painful lesson in over-reach. They got greedy and tried to force change. Yet they know the story of the frog in the boiling pot of water: Put him in when it's hot and he'll jump away, but put him in and turn up the heat gradually and before he knows it, he's cooked. Expect them to revert to the slow, steady approach.

We have to remember: Winning a series of battles doesn't necessarily translate into winning the war. To ensure that the next round of court battles doesn't turn against us, we need to keep pressing for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution ? one that will decide this issue once and for all and remove this fundamental issue from the hands of mercurial judges.

It's the only way to stop that roller coaster from taking another plunge.