The Supreme Court announced today that it will hear cases dealing with the definition of marriage during its current term.

The Court will consider challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act, passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress and signed by President Clinton, and Proposition 8, California’s constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

After lower courts ruled against these marriage laws, the Supreme Court now has the opportunity to return authority to citizens in answering questions about marriage policy.

Every marriage policy draws lines, leaving out some types of relationships. But equality forbids arbitrary line-drawing. Determining which lines are arbitrary requires us to answer two questions:

  1. What is marriage?
  2. Why does it matter for policy?

There are many good reasons why citizens in 41 states have said over and over that marriage is between a man and a woman. Marriage exists to bring a man and a woman together as husband and wife to be father and mother to any children their union produces. And as ample social science has shown, children tend to do best when reared by their mother and father.

Government recognizes marriage because it is an institution that benefits the public good.

Marriage is society’s least restrictive means to ensure the well-being of future citizens. State recognition of marriage protects children by incentivizing adults to commit permanently and exclusively to each other and their children.

While respecting everyone’s liberty, government rightly recognizes, protects, and promotes marriage as the ideal institution for procreative love, childbearing, and childrearing.

In recent decades, marriage has been weakened by a revisionist view that sees marriage as primarily about emotional bonds or legal privileges. In other words, it is more about adults’ desires than children’s needs. Same-sex marriage is the culmination of this revisionism: Emotional intensity would be the only thing left to set marriage apart from other bonds.

Government should not obscure the truth about marriage by accepting that revisionist view. In redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships, government would weaken marital norms, which would further delink childbearing from marriage and hurt spouses and children—especially the most vulnerable. It would deny a mother or father to a child as a matter of policy.

The harms resulting from redefining marriage would force the state to intervene more often in family life and force the state’s welfare to grow even more. Citizens would lose more of their freedom of religion and conscience.

Today’s decision from the Supreme Court comes a week after the district court of Nevada upheld that state’s marriage amendment that defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

In the coming months, the Supreme Court will consider briefs, hear oral arguments, and ultimately issue its ruling by the end of the term in June 2013. Whatever the outcome, debate on the issue of marriage will continue.

The coming months, therefore, offer an important opportunity for citizens to consider carefully what marriage is and why government should continue to recognize marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

For Further Reading:

The Heritage Foundation will continue providing resources for just such consideration. Subscribe to the Richard and Helen DeVos Center’s weekly newsletter, Culture Watch, to learn about arguments and data related to the marriage question and get updates on developments in the cases.

Other helpful resources include the Alliance Defending Freedom’s website Why Marriage Matters and the site of the California coalition that has defended Proposition 8, A new book by Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, and Robert P. George, What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, provides helpful—and timely—explanations. Order the book here.