Is the marriage debate over?
Many political elites, including more than a few Republicans, claim that it is, and that same-sex marriage has won the day.
But that claim confuses the will of the people with the dictates of a handful of unelected judges. When people have actually voted on marriage or revealed their preferences to pollsters, a much different picture emerges.
On Tuesday my non-profit organization, American Values, and a coalition of pro-family organizations released a national poll showing public support for traditional marriage and strong public opposition to court interference in the right of voters to define marriage in a way that reflects their values.
Plastic figurines depicting a female couple and a male couple, displayed on a table, at the Gay marriage fair, in Paris, Saturday, April 27, 2013. Credit: AP
The poll found that 53 percent of respondents felt that “marriage should be defined ONLY as a union between one man and one woman.” Forty-three percent disagreed with this statement.
The poll also found that nearly twice as many respondents (61 percent to 32 percent) agreed that “states and citizens should remain free to uphold marriage as the union of a man and a woman and the Supreme Court shouldn’t force all 50 states to redefine marriage.”
Finally, more than four in five respondents (81 percent) agreed that “government should leave people free to follow their beliefs about marriage as they live their daily lives at work and in the way they run their businesses.”
For those who would dismiss our poll as an outlier, other polls have found similar results. Last fall Gallup found that support for gay marriage had dropped, from 54 percent a few months earlier to 49 percent. Some commentators interpreted the decline in support for gay marriage as a result of the increasing intolerance of gay marriage advocates toward those who do not agree with their views.
Then there’s the fact that traditional marriage has won 32 times when the matter has been put to voters at the state level.
At this point, the most essential public policy question in the marriage debate is not over the morality of homosexuality or the meaning of marriage; rather, the question is: who gets to decide? In a free society, it is really the only question that matters.
The Constitution does not address the issue of marriage, thus leaving it to the individual states to decide. This is something most Americans seem to understand. A 2013 New York Times/CBS News poll showed that 60 percent of Americans favored allowing each state to define marriage.
But yet, 36 states and the District of Columbia now recognize same-sex marriage, most via judicial decree. And a Supreme Court decision in June may legalize same-sex marriage nationally, effectively striking down the will of the voters in dozens of states.
[sharequote align="center"]It's wrong when an unelected judge can impose policy preferences by overruling millions of voters.[/sharequote]
By appropriating the role of the legislative branch, the Supreme Court would be guilty of the worst kind of judicial activism. There is something wrong in a democracy when a single unelected judge can impose his policy preferences by overruling millions of voters or the majority of the people’s democratically-elected representatives.
The prospect of nation-wide gay marriage by judicial fiat comes at a time when public confidence in the Supreme Court has reached an all-time low. According to a 2014 Gallup poll, just 30 percent of Americans have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the Supreme Court, the lowest share since Gallup began asking the question in 1973.
I suspect there are more than a few Republican elites who will breathe a sigh of relief if the Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage. But Republicans shouldn’t let the issue of judicial activism go unanswered. They should continue to remind voters that judicially-imposed same-sex marriage is antithetical to self-government.
And they should remember that while same-sex marriage may be winning in the courts, it has not come close to winning in the court of public opinion.
Former presidential candidate Gary Bauer is president of American Values and chairman of the Campaign for Working Families. Follow @GaryLBauer
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