Obama, North Carolina and the politics of marriage

The president has just announced that he thinks marriage should be redefined to include same-sex couples. This comes one day after the voters of North Carolina made that state the 31st to enact a constitutional amendment reaffirming the legal definition of marriage as the union of a husband and wife. The president is at odds with (and, in fact, hostile to) the overwhelming majority of American jurisdictions on this issue, though not with his donors and the glitterati who are enthusiastically in favor.

The president has, famously, described his viewpoint as “evolving,” though anyone watching knew the real score when he publicly opposed every state marriage amendment and when his administration worked covertly and then overtly to undermine the federal Defense of Marriage Act. John O’Sullivan at National Review has a very amusing post about the idea of evolving opinion. Mr. O’Sullivan’s follow-up post cites an “Evolutionary Hymn” by C.S. Lewis with a line that seems to sum up the ideology of same-sex marriage supporters: “Goodness=what comes next.” 

Incidentally, if the president was evolving towards support for redefining marriage, was the vice-president’s position of “comfort” a Cro-Magnon viewpoint?

On Sunday, the vice president suggested the people of the United Statesare coming along because they’ve been influenced by sitcoms. (Philip Klein tweeted this morning: “Theory of Evolution: Obama to say he started watching ‘Will & Grace’ reruns and decided to change his mind.”). A recent Gallup poll says a majority is in favor of same-sex marriage, though interestingly, support has gone down from the previous year.

Maggie Gallagher notes that the North Carolina amendment got 61 percent voter support while a similar Virginia amendment got only 57 percent in 2006. Time after time polls show much closer margins of victory than actual voting on marriage amendments (the latest North Carolina poll showed 55 percent in favor of the amendment, 39 percent against, and 6 percent undecided). This suggests that the American people know that their “betters” disapprove of their position so they are hesitant to express it to pollsters, but they still want to pull the lever for marriage in the privacy of the ballot box.

The bottom line (helpful graphic here) is that the judges of three states and the legislatures of five more have endorsed marriage redefinition (and two of these, Maryland and Washington, are unsettled because voters may be able to weigh in through referenda this November). On the other hand, the voters of 31 states have amended their constitutions to prevent that redefinition and the remaining 11 have statutes or other legal recognition of traditional standards of marriage.

This issue will continue to roil the electorate and legislatures in the foreseeable future. What is at stake is monumental because endorsing marriage redefinition is to reject the settled understanding of marriage as uniquely child-centered. Like the last major revolution in family law – the creation of unilateral divorce – such a change will have consequences far beyond those it is meant to benefit.