Walter Choroszewski Stock Connection Worldwide/Newscom

Walter Choroszewski Stock Connection Worldwide/Newscom

While most Americans were celebrating the Christmas season, judges were busy redefining state marriage laws. In New Mexico, Utah, and Ohio, judges have usurped the authority of citizens and their elected representatives to discuss, debate, and vote on important policy matters regarding the most fundamental institution of society.

On December 19, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution requires New Mexico to recognize same-sex relationships. The next day, December 20, a federal judge ruled that Utah’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and woman violates the U.S. Constitution. (This came just a week after a federal judge struck down Utah’s ban on polygamy.) The following business day, December 23, a federal judge ruled that portions of Ohio’s marriage amendment violate the U.S. Constitution.

The U.S. Constitution does not require redefining marriage. In a Heritage Legal Memorandum, law professor John Eastman explains why marriage laws are constitutional. Among other points, he explains:

The Equal Protection Clause does not compel recognition of same-sex marriages because same-sex couples are not situated similarly, in relevant respects, to opposite-sex couples. Moreover, policies recognizing only traditional marriage further society’s compelling interests in procreation and child-rearing, among other things.

Knowing what equality demands requires knowing what marriage is and why it matters. 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 it because it is an institution that benefits society in a way that no other relationship does. It 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.

Redefining the institution would further distance it from the needs of children and deny 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 made 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.

The recent court rulings will not end the debate. That’s why we need to explain well what marriage is, why it matters, and what the consequences will be of redefining 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 judges to dictate it through decisions that have no grounding in our Constitution.

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