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Senate Gets Ready to "Attack" Defense of Marriage Act

By Thomas Messner

Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin debate on legislation that would repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

In 1996, Congress passed DOMA by wide margins, and President Clinton signed the bill into law. DOMA defines marriage as one man and one woman for purposes of federal law and makes clear that no state is required to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state.

In July, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on legislation that would repeal DOMA.

Austin Nimocks, senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, explained at the hearing that “children are the product of sexual relationships between men and women” and that “men and women each bring something important and unique to the table of parenting.” Therefore, Nimocks argued, “this government maintains a compelling interest in protecting and preserving the institution of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

Similar arguments for marriage were articulated in a House committee hearing on marriage in April. Maggie Gallagher, president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policytestified that “there is a unique public interest involved in bringing together male and female to make and raise the next generation.”

Gallagher explained, “Marriage is the union of a husband and wife for a reason. These are the only unions that can create new lives and connect those children in love to their mother and father.”

Written testimony submitted by former Heritage Foundation senior research fellow Chuck Donovan made a similar point. The public has a “stake,” Donovan explained, in the “time-honored” and “nearly universal” character of marriage “as an institution designed to bring men and women together and orient them toward their responsibilities in the begetting, bearing, and raising of the next generation.”

In sum, as one source puts it, “Protecting marriage as the faithful and lifelong union of one man and one woman is critical to the common good.” DOMA, in turn, is a critical federal protection for marriage. Therefore, the public has a strong interest in public officials upholding and defending DOMA as the law of the land.

Even people who feel ambivalent about the traditional understanding of marriage, however, have strong reasons to support marriage as one man as one woman. These reasons focus on how same-sex marriage threatens religious freedom.

As this Heritage backgrounder explains,

Arguments for same-sex marriage, although often couched in terms of tolerance and inclusion, are based fundamentally on the idea that preserving marriage as unions of husband and wife is a form of bigotry, irrational prejudice, and even hatred against homosexual persons who want the state to license their relationships. As increasing numbers of individuals and institutions, including public officials and governmental bodies, embrace this ideology, belief in marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman likely will come to be viewed as an unacceptable form of discrimination that should be purged from public life through legal, cultural, and economic pressure.

As documented in Heritage publications available here and here, changes in law based on the ideology that support for marriage as one man and one woman is bigotry would threaten the religious liberties of individuals and institutions that interact with the government or become subject to nondiscrimination laws.

In addition, once this ideology seeps into the culture more generally, individuals and institutions that support marriage as the union of husband and wife risk paying a price for that belief in many legal, social, economic, and cultural contexts.

In California, for example, support for Proposition 8—the marriage amendment passed by voters in 2008—generated a range of hostilities and harms including “harassment, intimidation, vandalism, racial scapegoating, blacklisting, loss of employment, economic hardships, angry protests, violence, at least one death threat, and gross expressions of anti-religious bigotry.”

For more stories of people who have faced significant burdens for supporting marriage as the union of husband and wife, see the Web site of the Marriage Anti-Defamation Alliance, a new initiative that defends people who defend marriage.

The best policy is to defend marriage as the union of husband and wife. This policy promotes the public interest in strong families and avoids the kinds of religious freedom and cultural clashes that can undermine social peace in an increasingly pluralistic society.


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