The following appeared as part of a National Review Online Symposium on President Obama’s announced support for same-sex marriage.
At one level, President Obama’s newly stated position on same-sex marriage is a trivial change. No one “in the know” ever believed that Obama really opposed same-sex marriage. His campaign position in 2008 was just a politically convenient pretense to bamboozle voters concerned about the terrible wreckage of a collapsed marriage culture.
Obama now says that he “personally” supports same-sex marriage, but (according to ABC News’ account of statements not yet made public) “he still supports the concept of states deciding the issue on their own.” If taken seriously, that latter proposition would necessarily imply Obama’s belief that the states’ traditional-marriage laws are constitutionally permissible. Alas, Obama cannot be taken seriously, for (as I have testified) the badly confused grounds on which he decided last year that his administration would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act would compel him to conclude that traditional-marriage laws are unconstitutional.
At another level, though, Obama’s newfound position is ominous for the American future. The American experiment in self-government depends on a vibrant marriage culture that transforms the little barbarians who emerge from the womb into responsible and virtuous citizens. The traditional male-female nature of marriage reflects the elementary biological reality that only heterosexual intercourse naturally generates children. The institution of marriage exists to maximize the prospect that children will be born and raised in stable and enduring families by the fathers and mothers responsible for their existence.
Redefining marriage to include same-sex couples would permanently reorient the institution of marriage away from this central mission. Indeed, proponents of same-sex marriage routinely dismiss as irrational the inherent link between marriage and responsible procreation and child-rearing.
Our marriage culture is on the verge of collapse—a collapse for which heterosexuals are largely responsible—with all the social pathologies associated with rising out-of-wedlock births and single-parent families. On marriage as on so many other matters, President Obama has failed to recognize what is needed to sustain the American experiment.
Ed Whelan is president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.