Next week the Supreme Court will decide two cases dealing with the definition of marriage.

One concerns the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage for the purposes of federal law as the union of one man and one woman. President Clinton signed DOMA into law after Congress passed it by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in 1996. The other case concerns Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment approved by California voters in 2008 defining marriage for state purposes as the union of one man and one woman.

>>> Watch Our Short Video on Why This Matters

At stake is whether citizens and their elected representatives have the constitutional authority to make laws that reflect the truth about marriage.

Here are five things you need to know:

1. Courts Shouldn’t Redefine Marriage

The U.S. Constitution does not require redefining marriage. Unelected judges should not usurp the authority of citizens and their elected representatives to discuss, debate and vote on important policy matters. In a Heritage Legal Memorandum, John Eastman explains why marriage laws are constitutional.

2. President Obama and the Government of California Didn’t Do Their Duty

President Obama instructed Attorney General Eric Holder not to defend DOMA. The governor of California told the state’s attorney general not to defend Prop 8. These abdications of the constitutional responsibility to defend laws passed by citizens and their elected representatives sets a disturbing precedent. Their inaction distorts the balance of powers among the legislative, executive and judicial branches. This tactic allows the executive branch to effectively veto any law, simply by refusing to defend it against challenge.

3. Telling the Truth About Marriage Matters for Policy

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. Government recognizes marriage because it is an institution that benefits society in a way that no other relationship does. Marriage is society’s best way to ensure the well-being of children. State recognition of marriage protects children by encouraging men and women to commit to each other and take responsibility for their children.

4. Redefining Marriage Would Have Bad Consequences

Redefining marriage would further distance marriage from the needs of children and would deny, as a matter of policy, the ideal that a child should have both a mother and a father. It’s hard to insist that fathers are essential when the law has redefined marriage to make fathers optional. Delinking childbearing from marriage leads to more state intervention and expanded government welfare programs.

Redefining marriage to abandon male-female sexual complementarity would make other essential characteristics—such as monogamy, exclusivity and permanency—arbitrary, as leading LGBT scholars and activists admit.

Redefining marriage is a direct and demonstrable threat to religious freedom. This is already evident in Massachusetts, Illinois and Washington, D.C., where Christian adoption agencies have been forced to stop providing adoption and foster care services.

5. What You Can Do to Prepare for the Rulings

The Supreme Court’s decisions will not end the marriage debate. That’s why we need to explain well what marriage is, why marriage matters and what the consequences will be if we redefine it.

Whatever one thinks about marriage, the courts shouldn’t be redefining it. America should make marriage policy through the democratic process, rather than allowing unelected judges to dictate it through decisions that have no grounding in our Constitution.

To help you engage the marriage debate, Heritage worked with allies to produce a downloadable booklet using everyday language to explain why marriage matters.

Additional research from Heritage on marriage:

And check out my book with Princeton’s Robby George and Sherif Girgis, “What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: a Defense.”