Defending the defense of marriage

When President Obama had his Justice Department chief announce that the administration no longer found the Defense of Marriage Act defensible (which is as as loaded with contradictions as it sounds), some members of Congress took up the cause.

Of course, it’s the House of Representatives. The one former Speaker Nancy Pelosi called “the people’s house.”  Which makes good sense, since each time the marriage issue has been taken to the ballot, Americans have upheld traditional marriage laws defining the institution of marriage as between one man and one woman. All 31 out of 31 times.

So the House is taking on the government’s traditional duty to defend federal law in court.

Moreover, since the Justice Department declared in February that it will not defend DOMA in court, the funding it would have used for DOMA defenses should now be “diverted” to the House to cover its legal expenses, House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Monday in a letter to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Mrs. Pelosi — who opposes any defense of DOMA — replied to Mr. Boehner that she still wants to know what the litigation will cost.

Which makes one wonder how Mrs. Pelosi’s concern about costs and spending was applied in the battle over federal funding of Planned Parenthood.

Defense of marriage, new and old

The president may have decided against it, but the defense of traditional marriage is being taken up by assorted other people who wield power. Here are two…

Out of many other notable efforts out there to make the case for the family as society’s foundation and building block, two crossed my path today while doing research and radio interviews.

An interview with the  president of the Chesterton Society can go absolutely anywhere on any subject, so brilliant was the ‘Apostle of Common Sense.’ But Dale Ahlquist and I talked in large part about Chesterton’s expressed beliefs about the family as the basis of civilization.

“Ideals,” says G.K. Chesterton, “are the most practical thing in the world.” This is why we still defend the family. This is why we insist on the ideal of marriage as a permanent union between one man and one woman, which creates the only proper setting for bringing new souls into the world, and that this purely natural act should not be interfered with.

The social trends have steadily moved in the opposite direction from this ideal in the last century. It is no longer a matter of a few loud critics getting a little testy at our quaint ideas of morality; we have gone past being attacked to being brazenly ignored. But if the society at large does not understand the moral arguments for the family, perhaps it will gain some appreciation for the practical arguments.

Good point. The moral argument has either been abandoned or morphed, but the practical is one a Chestertonian can make quite well.

An economy built on massive lending and spending cannot be sustained…An economy based on the family is self-sustaining…

Chesterton says that every high civilization decays by forgetting obvious things. The obvious things are the ordinary things, and we have forgotten them…

“The disintegration of rational society,” says Chesterton, “started in the drift from the hearth and the family; the solution must be a drift back.”

And some are moving that way. Congressional leadership picked up the baton the president decided to drop.

U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner announced Wednesday that the House is initiating a legal defense of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The decision by the Obama administration last month to abandon defense of the law in several current lawsuits left the law without any legal defense.

“The American people deserve to have their laws defended. The House has stepped up to the plate where the Department of Justice has shirked its responsibility,” said Alliance Defense Fund Senior Counsel Brian Raum. “The House of Representatives has the legal authority to intervene in these lawsuits to defend the federal DOMA statute. Even though Congress passed it with overwhelming bipartisan support, the DOJ won’t defend it. That means that a rigorous defense by Congress is the best possible option.”

As Chesterton said

The obvious things are the ordinary things, and we have forgotten them. The modern world that we have created has brought with it great strain and stress so that even the things that normal men have normally desired are no longer desirable: “marriage and fair ownership and worship and the mysterious worth of man.”

The ADF has made it their mission “to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family,” and they are on it. So are a great many Americans.

Voters in all 30 states that have sought to affirm marriage as one man and one woman in their state constitutions have overwhelmingly done so.

The debates and arguments will continue. May they all be reasoned.

Religious liberty and the future of marriage

The Obama administration made the incoherent declaration last week that it will no longer defend in court a federal law it must enforce. And thus the Justice Department signaled the likelihood that injustices may lie on the landscape for a host of issues.

Starting with religious liberty and marriage law.

Robert P. George, perhaps the nation’s top Catholic scholar on marriage, described [U.S. Attorney General Eric] Holder’s defense of the administration’s position as “extremely worrying.”

He said Holder’s statement was “dripping with animus” against people who believe that marriage is “the conjugal union of a husband and wife.”

“He treats that belief as if it were a mere prejudice, as though it is motivated by a desire to cause harm to people,” George told CNA Feb. 24. “Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. It is a legitimate moral belief that has informed our law throughout history.”

The statement suggests to George the possibility that the Justice Department will “abuse its authority to suppress the religious liberty of people who dissent.”

“It raises the concern that the Justice Department will treat believing Christians, Jews, Muslims and others as though they are the equivalent of racists,” he warned…

George believes it is “imperative” for religious believers and those who support the traditional definition of marriage to defend their religious liberty. Believers should make clear to the Justice Department that they intend to fight any effort to restrict their liberty and their rights of conscience.

He said recognizing marriage as only between one man and one woman is “absolutely not” discriminatory in terms of constitutional law. He cited Justice Anthony Kennedy’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, a landmark 2003 case that declared laws against homosexual acts to be unconstitutional. That ruling, George said, has “no implications whatsoever for marriage.”

As Prof. George has pointed out to me on radio, emphatically, in 31 out of 31 times this issue has been put before the electorate in a vote, American citizens have upheld the traditional definition of marriage.

For George, these defeats for advocates of same-sex “marriage” explain why they are trying to prevent the issue from being decided in an election.

“If they really thought that the people were going their way… they would be out there ahead of us trying to get the issue on the ballot.”

Government drops defense of marriage

The president has decided that a federal law put in effect by President Bill Clinton and upheld through the Bush administration…is no longer defensible.

Here’s the AP brief.

The Obama administration says it will no longer defend the constitutionality of a federal law that bans recognition of same-sex marriage.

In a statement Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder says President Barack Obama has concluded that the administration can no longer defend the federal law that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.

The Justice Department had defended the Defense of Marriage Act in court until now.

What will that mean now?

Here’s the immediate practical effect of this change:

-The Defense of Marriage Act remains in effect unless a federal court strikes it down or Congress repeals it.

-The government will stop defending the law in two court cases, in New York and Connecticut, where the law has been challenged, and in any other cases challenging the law.

-If the law is to be defended, members of Congress would have to step up and join those lawsuits.

Stay tuned, this is going to step up the whole debate. Keep it civil.

The other wedge issue

As if it’s only a couple…

Besides every other issue dividing politicians and the culture, which seem to abound right now, the battle for the legalization of same-sex marriage is throwing more heat than light on the larger issue of human rights.

In the past two weeks, Hawaii’s governor had to pronounce on state legislation that would have permitted gay marriage. She said no.

“There has not been a bill I have contemplated more or an issue I have thought more deeply about during my eight years as governor than House Bill 444 and the institution of marriage,” Lingle said at a news conference. “I have been open and consistent in my opposition to same-sex marriage, and find that House Bill 444 is essentially same-sex marriage by another name.”

The bill would have granted gay and lesbian couples the same rights and benefits the state provides to married couples.

She said voters, not politicians, should decide the fate of civil unions.

“It would be a mistake to allow a decision of this magnitude to be made by one individual or a small group of elected officials,” she said.

Though that’s what happened in Washington, by the D.C. Council, subverting the will of the voters.

In September 2009, Bishop [Harry] Jackson and others filed a proposed marriage initiative with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics that would have given voters the opportunity to support the position that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in the District of Columbia.”

The movement to protect the right of D.C. voters to vote on marriage became more urgent after the D.C. Council passed a second piece of legislation in December 2009 that, instead of merely recognizing same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, authorized the recognition of same-sex ceremonies conducted in the District itself.

However, D.C. residents wishing to vote on marriage were quickly thwarted by the unelected bureaucrats who sit on the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, who ruled that the pro-marriage initiative could not proceed because it would authorize or have the effect of authorizing “discrimination” in violation of D.C.’s Human Rights Act.

As pharoah said, so let it be written, so let it be done.

When I hosted ‘The Right Questions’ radio show, Sen. Rick Santorum was a guest several times and though we talked about whatever legislators were currently working on – immigration policy, confirmation of a Supreme Court justice nominee, etc. – Santorum often talked about the ‘defense of marriage act’ and the activism to replace traditional marriage laws in this country. He still is.

In a rare moment of bipartisan accord on such cultural issues, Congress and President Bill Clinton responded by enacting the Defense of Marriage Act to protect states from further judicial assault.

The later Massachusetts ruling worried advocates of traditional marriage because it was the first such decision since the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door to invalidating marriage laws by creating a constitutional right to consensual sexual activity of any kind. Many of us felt this would be the first of many rulings by liberal state courts invalidating marriage laws.

The response from Congress was scant and predictable. Almost every member of Congress said he or she personally supported the definition of marriage that had existed since the country was founded. But they expressed about as much commitment to righting the judicial wrong as those who say they are “personally opposed” to abortion.

They also had a convenient excuse for inaction: Congress, they claimed, had already protected marriage by passing the Defense of Marriage Act. This claptrap was designed to appease and to deceive. These marriage “supporters” knew full well that, given the propensity of judges to ignore the Constitution and the will of the people, it would be but a matter of time before DOMA, like the state marriage laws themselves, was deemed unconstitutional.

That happened [in early July], when a federal district court judge in (again) Boston ruled that the majority of Republicans and Democrats in Congress passed DOMA for the one purpose forbidden by law: “to disadvantage a group of which it disapproves.”

Then, right after that column appeared, Argentina became the first Latin American country to permit gay marriage. It was a sheer political calculation by the ruling Kirchners.

The measure both cements Argentina’s reputation as a relatively liberal outlier in a socially conservative region, and delivers a big short-term political victory to the president, Cristina Fernández, and her husband and predecessor, Néstor Kirchner.

That was the motive in picking this issue.

The Kirchners were looking for a controversial bill they could force through the legislature to prove the government could still get its way, and they settled on gay marriage as the best candidate. The topic would unite their leftist base, and enable them to demonise opponents of the measure—particularly the Catholic church, with which they have long had tense dealings…

Their strategy may have paid off in the short term, according to political calculations. However

Archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Mario Bergoglio was quoted by the Vatican paper as saying that the decision to legalize same-sex “marriage” represents “a war against God.”

He and the bishops of Argentina, the article says, have repeated “many times” that same-sex unions “do not possess the biological and anthropological elements that are proper of marriage and of family. In this type of union the conjugal dimension and the openness to the transmission of life are lacking.”

The Vatican paper also quoted the words of the Archbishop of San Juan de Cuyo, Alfonso Rogelio Delgado Evers, who said that the work for the dignity of people, families and children must continue. “We need to explain to the citizens that there is a type of aggression and discrimination towards normal people in this action.”

Marriage between a man and a woman to produce and take care of life “is not at all comparable to other types of union,” he said. “The politicians who approved this law did not take in to account and did not think about protecting the most vulnerable people: children.”

In one of my favorite resources, The Clash of Orthodoxies, Prof. Robert P. George notes that Christianity didn’t invent this idea of human integrity.

Did they dream up the notion that sexual immorality damages integrity of dis-integrationg the person? No. Christianity has had, to be sure, a very important role in promoting and enhancing our understanding of sexual morality. But in the dialogues of Plato and the teachings of Aristotle, in the writings of Plutarch and the great Roman stoic Musonius Rufus, and, of course, in Jewish tradition, one can find the core of this central, imortant teaching about the way sex is so central to integrity, and therefore so central not only to us as individuals but to us as a community. Dis-integrated, individual human beings cannot form an integrated community.

Or, to nail it down to the language of the tolerance movement…

Of course, the claim that the law ought to be morally neutral about marriage or anything else is itself a moral claim.

This is at the core in the conflict between Christian, Jewish and to a large extent islamic morality and the secularist orthodoxy. And he summarizes their view starkly but in its essence:

Marriage, for secularists, is a legal convention whose goal is to support a merely emotional union – which may or may not, depending upon the subjective preferences of the partners, be marked by commitments of exclusivity and permanence, which may or may not be open to children…and in which sexual acts of any type mutually agreeable to the partners are perfectly acceptable.

Bingo. Be careful what you wish for.

The biggest danger homosexual civil marriage presents is the enshrining into law the notion that sexual love, regardless of its fecundity, is the sole criterion for marriage. If the state must recognize a marriage of two men simply because they love one another, upon what basis can it deny marital recognition to a group of two men and three women, for example, or a sterile brother and sister who claim to love each other? Homosexual activists protest that they only want all couples treated equally. But why is sexual love between two people more worthy of state sanction than love between three, or five? When the purpose of marriage is procreation, the answer is obvious.