The Supreme Court’s marriage ruling oversteps the judiciary’s proper role in our system of government. As Chief Justice John Roberts explained in his dissent: “This court is not a legislature … Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be.” Regrettably, however, the court interjected itself into an ongoing national debate and authoritatively declared what the law should be.
The Supreme Court wrongly superseded the voices of more than 50 million voters in one fell swoop. Remember that Americans in 31 states have voted to affirm marriage in their constitutions, while the people in only three states have voted to redefine marriage.
Undoubtedly, the court’s decision has, at least for a season, redefined marriage from coast to coast. In so doing, the court has merely unearthed new, perhaps even more contentious, areas of debate. And those debates now fall on the next generation: Millennials.
While support for redefining marriage tends to be high among Millennials, perhaps the court’s decision will finally awaken them to the true consequences of a full cultural, legal, and judicial embrace of same-sex marriage.
This is because many same-sex marriage supporters have made clear that they aren’t content to rest on their laurels after their Supreme Court victory. They won’t stop until the Judeo-Christian vision of marriage is expunged from the public arena, or worse, defined as bigotry or hate speech.
During oral arguments in the very cases that resulted in this decision, Justice Samuel Alito asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, “In the Bob Jones case, the court held that a college was not entitled to tax-exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same-sex marriage?”
Verrilli candidly confessed, “It’s certainly going to be an issue. I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is — it is going to be an issue.”
This admission from the Obama administration puts all religious organizations on notice: your freedoms are at risk.
This battle for religious liberty could be the defining legal and cultural issue of the next decade, and millennials, particularly Christians, will take center stage. They may very well be the deciding voice for the future of religion in the public square. It’s time for them to realize what’s at stake. They’ve already gotten a preview of the battle lines after witnessing firsthand the fever-pitched debate over the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts in states like Indiana.
Although the religious freedom issue will likely take front and center, the ongoing public debate about marriage will continue, even as it enters a new chapter.
By untethering marriage from its natural roots — the complementarity of man and woman — the Supreme Court has opened wide the possibility for other sorts of relationships to be regarded as “marriages.” If the timeless male-female centerpiece is considered discriminatory, surely restrictions on number are now in jeopardy. As Chief Justice Roberts wrote in his dissent: “It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage.”
As marriage takes on unprecedented configurations, supporters of marriage between one man and one woman will have an uphill climb. Millennials are less religious and less likely to get married than any generation before them. But perhaps the court’s decision will have unintended effects on the marriage debate, just like Roe v. Wade had on the abortion debate.
Roe v. Wade forced the pro-life movement to make its work more personal and compassionate — to reach out directly to women and offer alternatives to abortion like adoption and assistance through crisis pregnancy centers. While it’s taken decades, pro-life advocates have changed the abortion debate one life at a time, and today the abortion rate is dropping dramatically, and more pro-life legislation has passed in the past five years than ever before. Perhaps the Supreme Court’s ruling will have a similar impact on the movement for man-woman marriage.
Marriage is reeling from an increase in out-of-wedlock births and divorces. Broken marriages and broken families need healing. Those who see the good of marriage as it has existed for “millennia,” to use Justice Anthony Kennedy’s word from oral arguments, can best restore marriage by living it out. It may take significant time to legally reaffirm the truth about marriage, but each day we can take one step closer to making it a reality.
For me and my generation, the next phase of this battle has just begun.
Alison Howard is director of alliance relations at Alliance Defending Freedom, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the marriage cases at the U.S. Supreme Court.