The Public Policy

What’s the Excuse for Inaction Now?

Even Democrat Ben Nelson supports a Federal Marriage Amendment after a judge in his home state told Nebraskans that they can't ban gay marriage.

By 7.1.05

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When Congress voted last year on a proposed federal marriage amendment to preserve traditional marriage, many politicians on both sides of the aisle opposed the amendment. Not one senator would publicly say that he or she supported homosexual marriage, but many dismissed a federal amendment as unnecessary because marriage was a state issue and no federal judge had threatened the meaning of marriage. A federal marriage amendment, opponents implied, was a solution in search of a problem.

Last month, a federal judge in Nebraska struck down that state's marriage amendment, thus creating the problem for which a federal marriage amendment is now the only solution. But it didn't take a crystal ball to see it coming.

Back in 2000, 70 percent of Nebraskans expressed the desire that marriage remain between one man and one woman. A single judge decided he knew better.

While this is not the first time a judge has sought to redefine marriage against the people's will, this is the first time a state constitutional amendment has been struck down. It was the supposed strength of these state amendments to which many politicians alluded when they falsely claimed that a federal marriage amendment was unnecessary. Senator John McCain called an amendment un-Republican because it imposes a federal remedy for a problem that most states do not believe confronts them. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid stressed that he "believe[s] in the sanctity of marriage" but that, "before we tinker with our most cherished rights, we should allow the states to deal with this issue..."

The Nebraska judge's decision is irrefutable proof that those who say marriage can be handled state by state are categorically wrong. Such assertions ignore the reality that federal judges have signaled unequivocally that they will not allow the people to decide for themselves. This reality was not lost on Democratic Senator Ben Nelson who recently told Focus on the Family's Jim Dobson that he now supports a federal marriage amendment. The Nebraska senator reevaluated his position, which previously endorsed state-level protections, in light of the Nebraska judge's unprecedented ruling.

It is also clear that the United States Supreme Court will not allow the definition of marriage to remain a state issue. Through Doe v. Bolton and Roe v. Wade (abortion), Griswold v. Connecticut (contraception), and, more recently, Lawrence v. Texas (sodomy) the high court has demonstrated that it will have the final word on the most crucial issues in the culture war.

Make no mistake: the definition of marriage in America is a zero-sum affair that will be decided at the federal level. Either activist courts will foist same-sex marriage upon an unwilling nation, or the people will protect it through a federal marriage amendment.

Support for such protections is not a betrayal of the goals of limited government. In our system of government certain issues are left to the states, while select others are deemed so essential to our understanding of democracy that they must be taken up at the national level.

For instance, the Constitution guarantees the federal government the right to regulate commerce, which is the cornerstone of the Controlled Substances Act, our national policy on illegal drugs.

There are also federal standards for air and water pollution, endangered species, drinking water quality, and a host of other environmental issues. Not only is national environmental policy a matter of practical necessity, it also underscores the seriousness with which Americans regard protecting the environment.

In the same way, marriage is an issue that necessitates a uniform standard.

Our country fought a civil war over the idea that some matters are too important to be decided state by state. Just as slavery was an assault on human dignity, the redefinition of marriage is an assault on an institution at the foundation of successful families and civilizations.

At a time when the president's and Congress's respective approval ratings are floundering, and as public support for protecting marriage reaches an all time high (in fact, a majority now supports a federal marriage amendment), the political timing for doing the right thing couldn't be better.

The Nebraska ruling marks the supreme failure of state remedies to judicial activism, which is exactly what marriage defenders have been predicting would happen for years.

But it's not too late. Now that it's clear that shifting the responsibility for protecting marriage to the states has failed, the White House and Congress can act decisively in defense of the most important building block of civilization. The state of the union is only as strong as the state of that critical union of one man and one woman -- the American family.

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