Strengthening The Institution of Marriage
The article was written by RIcardo Huerta. Check out his bio.
In June of this year we will reach the 3rd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, a case declaring that all fifty-states would now be required by law to recognize same-sex marriages. For many, the Court’s decision was a cause for joyous celebration; love had finally won. And for others, June 26th, 2015 was the final nail in the coffin of an institution that had already been in decline for decades. Three years removed from the Court’s 5-4 decision, there are religious and political conservatives still lamenting the method by which that case was decided, namely, 9 unelected judges deciding the fate of an entire institution.
Irrespective of what you think about the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, the simple truth is that marriage as a civil institution has steadily been on the decline and there are two primary reasons. Many of us, whether through personal experience with our own parents or alarming statistics, have heard about the staggering rate of American divorce. According to a study of divorce rates conducted by Sheela Kennedy and Steven Ruggles, divorce has been on the up since the mid-to-late 1980’s, all culminating in the go-to statistic that half of all marriages in America end in divorce. Divorce is both a personal and social tragedy of the highest kind. It not only affects the lives of the couples directly involved, but it also erodes the family, a central building block for any thriving society. Adding to the daunting statistics about divorce is the increasing body of knowledge on the rates of marriage today: as of 2012 only a quarter of all people aged 18-31 were married or heads of households. And according to Pew analysts Wendy Wang and Kim Parker, a record high of today’s young adults will most likely have never married by the time they reach their 40’s and 50’s. Marriage is in trouble and indifference runs rampant.
So what are conservatives to do about this? After all, this ultimately is a question particular to conservatives because it involves the erosion of an institution that they have consistently championed and watched crumble before their eyes.
I have a suggestion, including for those who disagree on religious grounds about the specific nature of marriage, that can place marriage at the center of our political and societal concerns. This begins, first, by encouraging marriage across all demographics of American society: gay or straight, young adults or older folks, rich and poor, with children or barren, religious or non-religious, and more.
It’s no secret that there were a large number of conservatives who opposed the Court’s decision on Obergefell v. Hodges. I, like the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, had reservations about the use of judicial power to decide a matter of domestic policy, mostly due to its usurping of the democratic process. But that was then and this is now. Pew Research shows that as of last year, 62% of Americans support gay marriage, making for a strong majority.
This all might seem like callous and shallow political calculation, i.e. most of society is on board with gay marriage, therefore, if the GOP wants to win elections it needs to capitulate to the social milieu. But my argument runs deeper than that. In fact, it gets to the core of the modern GOP’s identity as a party. For the past three decades (and perhaps even longer) the GOP has branded itself as the party of family values, and therefore, marriage. Look no further than the late George W. Bush, who declared that “a strong America must value the institution of marriage.” The GOP, and those within its ranks who consider themselves a part of the conservative movement, must champion marriage between two people in all its forms
In one sense, what I am suggesting is entirely pragmatic. By encouraging gay marriage Republicans will see a foundational societal institution empowered, which in turn will make for a more stable family and communal life. To put it simply, stronger marriages make for a better society which all can be seen in the ordinary day-to-day lives of Americans. It’s practical. But in another sense, what I am suggesting is more conservative than what some conservatives would like to give me credit for; in fact, it lies closer to our values than they could ever imagine or recognize. By encouraging gay marriage, conservatives would be doing what they have always promised to deliver on: preserve those social institutions we value most.
The time has come, albeit a bit too late, when conservatives of every stripe must consider uniting for the greater cause of marriage. As Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse put it in the opening page of his most recent book The Vanishing American Adult, “There is no higher calling than two becoming one…”