What I Saw at the March for Marriage: Diversity

COMMENTARY Marriage and Family

What I Saw at the March for Marriage: Diversity

Mar 28, 2013 5 min read

Former Senior Visiting Fellow

Jennifer A. Marshall was a senior visiting fellow for the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity at The Heritage Foundation.

On Tuesday, as lawyers argued Proposition 8 before the Supreme Court, thousands made their way past the Court building as part of the March for Marriage, organized by the National Organization for Marriage.

They came from Chicago and New York City, New Hampshire and North Carolina, and beyond. Some were black pastors who had marched for their civil rights a half century ago — and dismissed the idea of comparing same-sex marriage to that cause. Many were Hispanic, and half the chants were in Spanish. Some rode in strollers, others in wheelchairs.

Afterward, marchers rallied on the National Mall to hear speakers ask the Supreme Court to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act and Prop 8, thereby respecting the constitutional authority of the American people to make marriage policy. The message: Don’t hand down another Roe v. Wade. Allow the democratic debate to continue.

The Supreme Court is not expected to issue its decision on either law until late June. But at this first March for Marriage, one post-Roe reality seemed to be setting in already: ignoring or marginalizing one side of a very robust debate in America. To their credit, C-SPAN aired the march and NPR ran clips of several speeches. A few other news outlets mentioned the march. But most neglected this half of the marriage debate.

Dana Milbank’s column in the Washington Post the morning after the march, for example, described a much different scene outside the Supreme Court than the one I experienced: “A thousand or more demonstrators were in this festival, chanting and cheering the gay-rights speakers — crowding out the few dozen opponents of gay marriage who stood, sullen and surrounded, on the other side of First Street NE.”

“Few dozen.” To those who would like to redefine marriage, supporters of the historical definition are a dwindling camp, and the redefinition of marriage as a foregone conclusion, the inevitable outcome of the forces of history.

If you haven’t seen or heard them anywhere else, here are just a few highlights from the march and the rally that followed:

Reverend Bill Owens, head of the Coalition of African American Pastors, brought some perspective to a debate that’s often been framed as a “civil rights” issue. “I marched and many others marched at this same location because of the color of our skin,” Owens said. “Today, there is a claim that the discrimination I and other African Americans faced is similar to the battle for same-sex marriage. I do sympathize with those who have faced discrimination.  Every person should be treated with respect and dignity, but the discrimination African Americans have experienced stands in stark contrast to the situation before the Supreme Court.”

A Maryland man who co-founded National Capital Tea Party Patriots told the crowd: “I am Doug Mainwaring, and I’m gay. And for a very long time, I was pro-same-sex marriage. . . . Until I began to consider why I supported same-sex marriage, and I came to the following conclusion: Marriage is an immutable term, and we should not mess with it.”

“Today we say to the Court: No more Roe v. Wades,” announced Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, as he kicked off the rally. “We say to the Court: You don’t have the right to redefine marriage; you don’t have the right to overturn the votes of 50 million Americans in 31 states.”

Several speakers countered the media’s portrait of young people moving as a bloc away from marital norms, as did, of course, the presence of many youth among the marchers. “Don’t give up on us young people,” urged Alison Howard, communications director at Concerned Women for America. “The media will tell you that I don’t exist. Well, I’ll be the unicorn. I do exist, and I believe in marriage between a man and a woman.”

Howard continued: “My generation grew up in this culture that does nothing to support or protect marriage. We bear those scars . . . of a culture that saw divorce just tear apart our country. Ask any little girl who never got to have the embrace and watch of her father if it mattered to her. Ask any little boy who never got to hear the tone of his mother’s loving voice if it mattered to him. Young people know that a mom and a dad is the best model for marriage.”

The march brought together different backgrounds and life experiences. New York state senator Ruben Diaz, a Democrat who is Puerto Rican by birth, spoke about his stand for marriage as the union of one man and one woman, decrying the law that redefined marriage policy in his state.

Veterans of state-level battles over marriage urged the Court to respect the democratic process.

“This reminds me of the Proposition 8 campaign,” said Frank Schubert, political director for the National Organization for Marriage. “It was an amazing experience to see people come together across every barrier and division: men and women; young and old; Republicans, Democrats, independents; people of every race; people of every faith and people of no faith. They came together, over 7 million of them, to pass Proposition 8. Now, this is a movement that shocked the world in 2008, but it’s not been confined to California. Over 50 million Americans have stood up in over 30 states and cast their votes saying marriage is one man and one woman.”

Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of North Carolina Values Coalition, recalled the victory last May in her state, when voters affirmed marriage as the union of a man and a woman. “By an overwhelming vote of 61 percent to 39 percent, North Carolinians amended their constitution,” Fitzgerald said. “The vote in North Carolina represents the very essence of the democratic process,  the people voting to affirm the core values and building block of society — marriage.”

Fitzgerald summed up the sentiment of the day. “It is wrong for this Court to upend the voters’ decision in North Carolina or in any other state, for that matter,” she said. “The Supreme Court should seize the opportunity to uphold the laws and return authority to citizens and their elected representatives . . . If there’s one lesson the Supreme Court should have learned from Roe v. Wade, it is that the Court should not determine the final outcome of highly debated and volatile social policies. That belongs with the people.”

Those at the March for Marriage stood in spirit with Ryan T. Anderson, the William E. Simon Fellow at The Heritage Foundation and co-author of the book What Is Marriage?, who would be mocked that night by CNN’s Piers Morgan for defending marriage, and who earlier answered an MSNBC anchor’s charge that he was on the wrong side of history by saying, “There is no wrong side of history apart from what the truth is.”

Whatever the Court’s decision in June, Brian Brown and his irrepressible team at the National Organization for Marriage have made this movement larger, more diverse, stronger, and more energized with the inaugural March for Marriage. Don’t expect this crowd to dwindle anytime soon.

— Jennifer A. Marshall is director of domestic-policy studies at The Heritage Foundation and  author of Now and Not Yet: Making Sense of Single Life in the Twenty-First Century.

First appeared in National Review Online's "The Corner."