Freedom Yes, Redefining Marriage No

Peter Sprigg | March 6, 2015 | 12:27pm EST
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FILE - In this June 25, 2013 file photo, Vin Testa of Washington waves a rainbow flag in support of gay rights outside the Supreme Court in Washington. The Supreme Court will hear arguments over same-sex marriage on April 28 and make audio of the proceedings available later that day. The gay marriage cases mark the only time this term that the court has agreed to the quick release of audio recordings. But the court is continuing its ban on providing video of its sessions or even live-streamed audio. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

By an almost 2-1 margin, Americans in a recent poll declared they agree that “States and citizens should remain free to uphold marriage as the union of a man and a woman and the Supreme Court shouldn’t force all 50 states to redefine marriage.”

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — and her eight other colleagues on the high court — would do well to take notice.

Justice Ginsburg seems oblivious to this strong current in public opinion, however. In an interview with Bloomberg News on Feb. 12, she was asked if she thought “that there are parts of the country that would not be able to accept” a Supreme Court decision declaring “a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry.”

Justice Ginsburg replied, “I think it’s doubtful that it wouldn’t be accepted. The change in people’s attitudes on that issue has been enormous.”

Change there has been, but not as “enormous” as social liberals claim. The poll conducted by Wilson Perkins Allen (WPA) Opinion Research for the Family Research Council released on Feb. 24 makes that clear. While a significant majority of federal judges have jumped on the marriage redefinition bandwagon since the Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, the public prefers this decision be left to the people and their elected representatives by a 61-32 percent margin.

We are repeatedly told that a majority of Americans now support allowing same-sex couples to legally marry. However, most such polls frame the issue as one of “rights” (presupposing the very question in debate, which is whether such a “right” exists) or of “legality” (raising the prospect in the minds of freedom-loving Americans that the alternative is making something illegal). The correct question, however, is not whether “gays and lesbians” have the “right” to “marry.” The more fundamental question is, “What is marriage?” When (correctly) framed as an issue of the definition of marriage, the WPA poll showed that a majority of Americans — by a 53-43 percent margin — still says: “I believe marriage should be defined only as a union of one man and one woman.”

Justice Ginsburg’s reply to Bloomberg News, in fact, made it appear that she is unaware not only of poll findings like these, but more alarmingly, of the actual issue that is before the court. Asked about the possibility of a ruling that finds “a constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry,” she replied with an eloquent statement about the growing acceptance of homosexuals as people — not about same-sex unions as “marriage.” Justice Ginsburg declared:

“In recent years, people have said, ‘This is the way I am.’ And others looked around and we discovered, it’s our next-door neighbor — we’re very fond of them. Or it’s our child’s best friend — or even our child. And the rest of us recognized that they are one of us.”

It is undoubtedly true that many Americans — a growing number — have friends or relatives who are homosexual, and are “very fond of them.” This, however, has nothing whatsoever to do with the definition of marriage. Marriage does not exist as a civil institution to express “fondness” for individuals, or to affirm sexual relationships. Instead, it recognizes the unique value of the only type of relationship capable of reproducing the human race.

Even among those who support abolishing the one-man, one-woman definition of marriage, more than a quarter in the WPA poll recognize that such social change, if it is to happen, should only occur through the democratic process. It should not be imposed by the Supreme Court fabricating a “right” found nowhere in the Constitution or in the Court’s precedents — not even in the 2013 decision striking down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

The court, and the country, should also consider the unintended consequences of such a change. Even without a 50-state marriage-redefinition dictate, we have already seen growing attacks upon the very freedom to believe in natural, one-man, one-woman marriage. Among the more recent examples are Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, who was fired because he expressed support for Christian sexual morality in a Bible study book he wrote, and Barronelle Stutzman, a florist in Washington state, who has been found guilty of violating the law for declining to participate in a same-sex wedding by making floral arrangements.

Such actions fly in the face of even stronger public opinion in the WPA poll in which Americans agreed — by an astonishing 81-12 percent margin — that government should leave people free to follow their beliefs about marriage as they live their daily lives and in the way they run their businesses.

Like Justice Ginsburg, state and local officials across the country should take note of these findings.

Peter S. Sprigg is Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. Mr. Sprigg joined FRC in 2001, and his research and writing have addressed issues of marriage and family, human sexuality, the arts and entertainment, and religion in public life.

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by The Family Research Council.

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