The ‘Respect for Marriage Act’ Deserves No Respect

Published July 21, 2022

National Review

This week, House Democrats led the way in helping pass the Orwellian titled “Respect for Marriage Act” (RFMA). It passed with a clear majority of 267 votes for it and 157 against it. What should not escape notice (and what we’ll return to down below) is that 47 Republican members of the House of Representatives voted for it as well.

The bill aims to repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which both the Windsor and Obergefell rulings had already severely gutted. The Respect for Marriage Act comes in response to Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion in the Dobbs decision that criticized the validity of “substantive due process,” the legal mechanism that progressives have used to discover new rights within the Constitution, of which “same-sex marriage” was one.

While DOMA is technically still a law, progressives fear that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority could potentially overturn Obergefell were it to take Justice Thomas’s arguments seriously. Were the Court to ever overturn Obergefell (which, sadly, almost all recognize as unlikely), same-sex marriage would become a matter for the states, like abortion just has. Supporters of the bill promote it not only as codifying “marriage equality” for federal purposes, but protecting interracial marriage as well.

It should be noted, for argument’s sake, that interracial marriage is not like same-sex marriage in any respects. Interracial marriage possesses the attributes necessary to form a marriage — maleness and femaleness. Same-sex ones do not. Skin color is utterly irrelevant to one’s ability to form a marriage, whereas sex is essential. The difference of the sexes is what gives rise to the need for marriage to begin with: To unite a mother and father’s enfleshed love to the need of their offspring’s security and well-being. So conservatives should brush off hysterics that opposition to the Respect for Marriage Act is akin to wanting interracial marriage banned or voided. That is hogwash. Race is a social construct. Male and female are biological realities, and the relationship of marriage, which requires sexual consummation and therefore involves a sexual complementarity, is not something that can be transformed by mere manipulation of the dictionary definition.

Marriage is something and not other things. It is the institution that sees a man and woman become husband and wife and father and mother to any children their union produces. Marriage is not, contra the marriage revisionists, fundamentally about adult desires for romance and companionship. Marriage secures the foundation for society’s cultivation. It bonds child to parent in a permanent, stable union. Social science abundantly ratifies these truths. Same-sex marriages in no way contribute to the needs of society since they are, by definition, childless.

Marriage is no mere social convention authorized by the state. It is a key civilizational pillar lost to a generation enamored with banal aphorisms like “love wins” and “live your truth.”

And that takes us to the real significance of gay marriage. It is not merely an expansion of the relationships to which one can apply the term. It actually represents the triumph of the sexual revolution. It may well be that in a world of drag queens, kink, and BDSM floats at pride parades, the middle-class gay couple look rather conventional and harmless. Indeed, they may well be better neighbors, kinder people, more committed to each other, than many traditional married couples. But gay marriage nonetheless remains the result of a sexual revolution that assumes that sexual desire is central to identity, has turned sexual acts into mere recreation, and denies the significance of biology for human personhood. Yes, gay men and women and trans/queer activism are theoretically at odds on the significance of the sexed body for identity. But they are at one on the fact that desire is identity, that sex acts have no intrinsic moral value, and that biological complementarity is irrelevant to sexual relationships. Those are the foundations of the ideology that has ultimately borne fruit in calls for kindergartners to be taught LGBTQ curricula and preteens pumped full of hormones. That is the truth of the matter, however much individual gay people may abominate such ideas and practices.

Of course, progressives frame this bill as a way to get Republicans on the record about “marriage equality.” Facing what many consider to be a “Red Wave” in November, Democrats are eager to look past the Biden economy and to play gotcha with the remaining Republicans who are afraid to be on “the wrong side of history.” They fear political retribution. But fear is the opposite of freedom and truth. Rather than buckle at elite scorn, always choose to live with the truth, not against it.

It’s hardly controversial that liberals would act as liberals, especially when it comes to gay marriage. It is curious, however, that in 2022, with seven years of gay marriage being the law of the land, they now act as though any legislative trepidation is the same as living in 1950s Alabama. This is the same liberalism that could never rely on legislative votes to get same-sex marriage in the first place. It required an act of the Supreme Court, which came in 2015.

This brings us to the most important part of this situation. The bill now moves to the Senate, where it will need ten Republican senators to cross the aisle to overcome a filibuster. Talking with Capitol Hill insiders, we’ve heard distressed concerns that were this bill to be given a vote, it could easily pass. That speaks loudly to the way in which a bipartisan elite has converged on a mistaken understanding of key social questions, such as marriage. Of course, public opinion has apparently shifted in favor of gay marriage over the last decade. But truth is not a function of majority opinion or public taste, and what we need more than anything at this point is politicians who resist the post-truth and post-rational culture, even if that brings personal cost. They owe as much to the nation’s children and to future generations.

The cravenness of Republicans who are looking to “move on” from supposedly divisive “social issues” will deserve their comeuppance should they vote for this bill. In no way can one be considered a “conservative” if one is willing to jettison the boundaries of the natural family. This is not a vote for respect of anything. It is a vote to further codify moral anarchy.

EPPC Fellow Andrew T. Walker, Ph.D., researches and writes about the intersection of Christian ethics, public theology, and the moral principles that support civil society and sound government. A sought-after speaker and cultural commentator, Dr. Walker’s academic research interests and areas of expertise include natural law, human dignity, family stability, social conservatism, and church-state studies. The author or editor of more than ten books, he is passionate about helping Christians understand the moral demands of the gospel and their contributions to human flourishing and the common good. His most recent book, out in May 2021 from Brazos Press, is titled Liberty for All: Defending Everyone’s Religious Freedom in a Secular Age.

Carl R. Trueman is a fellow in EPPC’s Evangelicals in Civic Life Program, where his work focuses on helping civic leaders and policy makers better understand the deep roots of our current cultural malaise. In addition to his scholarship on the intellectual foundations of expressive individualism and the sexual revolution, Trueman is also interested in the origins, rise, and current use of critical theory by progressives. He serves as a professor at Grove City College.

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