June 21, 2004

June 21, 2004 | News Releases on Family and Marriage

Policy Makers Should Act Now To Protect Marriage

WASHINGTON, MAY 17, 2004 - Rather than leave an issue as important as same-sex marriage in the hands of a few activist judges, federal and state policy-makers can take several steps to ensure that marriage remains an institution for one man and one woman only, says a new paper by The Heritage Foundation.

"We often hear this framed as a 'civil rights' issue by those who claim that we're simply extending the legal benefits of marriage to a larger group of people," says Matthew Spalding, director of Heritage's Simon Center for American Studies. "Nothing could be further from the truth. It's not an expansion, it's a redefinition-one that would overturn marriage completely and subvert its very nature."

The fact that Massachusetts, for now, is allowing same-sex marriage, doesn't mean that those who would defend marriage should give up, Spalding says. Many significant legal battles are yet to be fought at the state and federal levels. Judicial decisions in Massachusetts and other localities are but the opening moves in what Spalding calls "a long-term legal strategy to impose homosexual 'marriage' through the courts, circumventing lawmakers and the people before they have an opportunity to react through legislation or the electoral process."

And, Spalding notes, marriage is a national issue, but it is not primarily a federal policy matter. By tradition, and in accord with our constitutional division of power between the federal government and the states, marriage is recognized and regulated by state law. Most of the key battles, therefore, will occur at the state level.

Spalding recommends that state policy-makers:

  • Review their laws concerning marriage and clarify and strengthen public policy preferences that favor traditional marriage.
  • Clearly and unambiguously declare their state policy and their refusal to recognize same-sex "marriages" from other states.
  • Amend their constitutions to establish a clear constitutional policy that favors marriage.
  • Petition Congress to voice their concerns and express their views about federal legislation and a constitutional amendment to protect marriage.

There are several things, meanwhile, that Congress could do to support and defend marriage. Consistent with the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), it could call on the states to clarify their marriage statutes and define in state law, and in state constitutions if necessary, that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. It also could take steps to enforce the definition of marriage established in DOMA when it reauthorizes federal programs and otherwise enforces federal policy, ensuring that all federal policies are consistent with that definition.

But the most important step Congress can take, Spalding says, is to send a constitutional amendment that protects the institution of marriage to the states for ratification.

For centuries, Spalding notes, every society and every major religion has recognized marriage as something intrinsically related to the relationship between fathers, mothers and their children. "Now, thanks to the actions of a few judges who don't have to answer to an electorate that has consistently voiced support for traditional marriage, we're suddenly turning our most important institution into a mere legal arrangement."

Who, Spalding asks, beyond a small minority of vocal supporters, is clamoring for homosexual marriage? "Yet we have judges ready to overturn centuries of experience and settled wisdom," he says. "Decisions of such magnitude shouldn't be forced before we've carefully considered the full scope of their ramifications. That's what the amendment process would do: cause us to take full stock of our actions before we blithely dilute marriage to the point where it's just another social arrangement."

Spalding's paper is available at heritage.org. More Heritage research on marriage and family issues can be found online at heritage.org/research/family/issues2004.cfm.

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