Justice for John Yoo and Jay Bybee

President Obama and his Justice Department have decided to leave the legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act to others—and, as embarrassing as this decision in the midst of intense litigation may be to the Administration – it is probably a good thing for the institution. This is no time leave marriage to the mercy of the kind of half-hearted defense Eric Holder’s Justice Department was offering it.

Marriage is the cornerstone in an archway of values that form the constitution of the family and the foundation of civil society. To its advocates as an institution with a pre-political meaning, it is not an entity created by the state but rather one recognized by the state. It is not about one family, but the coming together of two families, whose role in begetting and bearing children make them not merely part of a community but the creators of community. The community they create is not time-bound, but existing across generations. For the sake of its history and its future, authors write books about roots and Web sites offer tools to research genealogies.

Of all the reasons why the Obama Administration’s haphazard approach to DOMA is bad, none is more distressing than the belief, asserted breezily in Attorney General Holder’s statement today, that the argument for marriage as a path to “procreational responsibility” can be “disavowed” and ignored by the courts. The implications of such a statement for public policy are staggering. More than a package of government benefits is at stake. More than a line item on passport applications is at issue. What is at stake is the whole task of society to ensure that as many children as possible are raised by their mothers and fathers.

The consequences of failure are staggering, and the contemporary United States, like so many other Western nations, is seeing those consequences firsthand. The effects of broken families are statistically significant across category after category – youth crime, child poverty, educational attainment, and adult mental health in the next generation. For taxpayers, the costs of family dissolution and, increasingly, the failure of families to form are distressingly high and growing. It would be irrational not to privilege marriage for the sake of these concerns.

The case for DOMA rests on multiple grounds, including legal precedent that the Obama Administration has studiously ignored in its run-up to today’s announcement. President Obama has indicated time and again that his Administration wants to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Fair enough. The 1996 congressional debate on the measure was thorough and decisive. The same should hold true for the cases and controversies now before the federal courts in New York and New England. Now that President Obama has shown his hand and bowed out of the fight, a real defense of DOMA can begin. The American people deserve no less.