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WASHINGTON, DC – On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in one of the most highly anticipated cases in history, wherein the constitutionality of same-sex marriage (SSM) could potentially be decided. Hollingsworth v. Perry, a case that examines the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 (a 2008 voter-approved state ban on SSM), is effectively the first instance in which the issue of SSM has undergone substantive judicial review. It is expected to become a landmark case of great interest to both sides of the SSM ideological divide. A second case, United States v. Windsor (a challenge to the “Defense of Marriage Act” [DOMA], which allows individual states to choose whether to recognize gay marriages from other states), came before the high Court today. A decision is expected in late June.
These cases – which observers have been watching over the past few years – have made no small impact, as evidenced by the thousands of people who came out to express their views on the issue. In anticipation of the day’s proceedings, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) organized a “March for Marriage”, calling on supporters of natural marriage from across the country to demonstrate in Washington on behalf of their cause. Headcount estimates range from 5,000-10,000 participants.
As march participants began arriving at the Supreme Court, they encountered a smaller yet sizeable number of SSM advocates. David Bueller and Matthew Wright – a gay Canadian couple now residing in Ohio – were among those present in support of SSM. Bueller and Wright, who were married in Toronto, say that their union is not recognized by Ohio as a result of DOMA. “It does seem that things have been moving relatively quickly in our favor,” said Wright. “I do believe there has been a seed change in American culture regarding same-sex marriage.”
Speaking about the specific push for marriage (as opposed to civil unions), Bueller states, “Civil union bills that have passed are not fully inclusive of the 1,100 other rights afforded to marriage.” Wright adds, “Marriage immediately qualifies one in this country for full benefits, whereas not all civil unions do.” They refer to marriage as a “civil contract” set apart from religious ceremonies – a point which, they say, accounts for the “religious perspective” that a family consist of a father and a mother. “We have freedom of religion; we also have freedom from religion,” said Bueller.
Supporters of natural marriage, however, appeal to the nature of the marital institution itself rather than religious arguments. Colin O’Brien of Hyattsville, MD stated, “I hope that the Court sees marriage as a natural institution and not one we can redefine by law.” While he cites some concerns regarding trends in public opinion that show increasing support for SSM, he calls to mind that the same was true of abortion in the time when Roe v. Wade was decided. “It will continue to be a vigorous debate, regardless of [the Court’s] decision. … Roe didn’t settle [the abortion] issue at all, but actually made it an ongoing controversy that, in the long run, appears to show that the pro-life side is winning. I hope that people will see marriage in a similar way. We can’t redefine it, and if we do, it will only increase polarization.”
Isolde Cambournac, a French citizen currently studying in Washington, DC, also came out to the march. She and other members of the French community in the nation’s capital (who rallied beneath the flag of their home country) saw their participation as an act of solidarity with supporters of natural marriage around the world. (Even as recently as this past Sunday, over one million pro-marriage demonstrators marched in Paris as part of the ongoing demonstrations protesting legislative action to liberalize the country’s marriage laws.) “Marriage is a fundamental question for all of society,” said Cambournac. “This is why we see such a reaction in various countries; it is a universal question independent of individual cultures. This is why we see this international dimension: family is the basis of every society, whether French, British or American.”
While a number of marriage advocates remained at the Supreme Court, many headed back to the rally site on the National Mall. Among the speakers was Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, Founder and President of the Ruth Institute, an organization dedicated to promoting an intellectual and social climate favorable to committed marriage on college campuses across the country. In her speech to marriage supporters, Morse spoke of the movement to preserve marriage (along with its pro-life counterpart) as a youthful enterprise: “The life movement is a youth movement … because young people eventually figured out that abortion set aside the interests of children for the convenience of adults. Eventually, young people will figure out that redefining marriage [does the same].” According to Morse, “to deliberately deprive a child of either a father or a mother – for the state to come between a child and his parents – is a structural injustice to the child.”
When asked about support for marriage on college campuses, Morse said, “There is an undercurrent of support for traditional marriage. … People have seen that the sexual revolution has not made [them] happy, … and so they’re beginning to turn around on the issue of marriage.” While she mentions that the main concern on many students’ minds is that that their beliefs might hurt their homosexual friends, Morse stresses that her organization encourages chaste friendships between people of all sexual orientations. “When you think about it, most friendships are chaste anyway. [The main point] is to recognize friendship as a good, and that students who are well formed on marriage should be able to reach out to their brothers and sisters who may be struggling with it.”
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco – who as Auxiliary Bishop of San Diego became a key promoter of Prop. 8 – also spoke at the rally. Cordileone, who currently serves as Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, led rally participants in prayer and expressed his hope that the Court would support Prop. 8 and DOMA, “respecting the very nature of the human person and the nature of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”
Cordileone emphasized the importance of educating the public on the importance and nature of marriage – an effort that he stresses will remain necessary even if the Court rules favorably for marriage advocates. Like Morse, Cordileone also expressed concern about a general disregard for the welfare of children when it comes to the marriage debate: “It should already be obvious from nature: every child has a mother and a father, so we should have an institution in society that connects children to those parents who brought them into the world.” He stated that stability is the most important factor in a child’s development, and that this stability is best ensured by an institution defined by its capacity to link a child’s biological mother and father in a committed, lifelong relationship. “One thing for sure is that, when [same-sex marriage advocates] understand what marriage really is and what is really at stake, and that [this cause] is not a matter of hatred or bigotry, they understand more deeply that which they instinctively already know: that there is something special about the union of a man and woman and their relationship to their children.”
Making reference to marriage’s connection with the pro-life movement, the prelate said, “It is a matter of respecting the dignity of the child, both in the womb and growing up. The child comes from a man and a woman: that man should join himself to that woman not just to create that baby, but to nurture the baby, to care for his wife and to form a family.” In this way, he argues, marriage serves as a cultural mechanism that ensures a caring for life and a caring for children – an aspect which, though often overlooked, should take precedence in the marriage debate.