On Wednesday, the Supreme Court overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, extending benefits to same-sex married couples.
What you've heard from the media, which isn't actually the case, is that the Supreme Court struck down DOMA altogether. It didn't. Other than Section 3, it still stands. So it could have been worse.
Still, the most troubling aspect of the DOMA case were the words chosen by Justice Kennedy in the majority opinion. Words like "disadvantage," "stigma," "degrade" and "humiliate" made his meaning plain. The only reason not to approve of same-sex marriage is hate or bigotry.
However, Kennedy also wrote that the regulation of marriage "is an area that has long been regarded as a virtually exclusive province of the States." And in its ruling on California's Proposition 8, the Court rejected the opportunity to deliver a sweeping national Roe-like decision on marriage.
So for now, the political definition of marriage is yet to be decided, as my guests on BreakPoint This Week from the Heritage Foundation and the Alliance Defending Freedom carefully explained. Come to BreakPoint.org to listen in.
But what do these decisions mean for us? As we often say around here, politics is downstream of culture. Given what the current cultural definition of marriage is, the political one will soon follow, unless it is challenged and redeemed. This is where the battle must be waged.
How we collectively imagine marriage as a culture is at the heart of this battle. As I wrote yesterday at National Review, Americans "cannot imagine marriage to be anything other than the government's endorsement of romantic love. Even many opponents of same-sex marriage share this fundamentally wrong definition."
Since the dawn of human culture, marriage has been primarily about the procreating and raising of children and the continuation of the family and society, not romantic love.
What's more, I wrote, this re-definition of marriage "happened because of art, not arguments; because of imagination, not debate." Ask someone, Christian or non-Christian, about what love is and their answer will largely be the product of what they've seen on television or in the movies. Boy meets girl, or other boy. They "fall in love" and what happens afterwards, whether marriage or cohabitation, is merely an expression of that "love."
Ironically, even as the movies tell us, that kind of "love" is fickle. People "fall out of love" all the time, often for reasons they can't even explain. There's no way this kind of "love" will hold up under the weighty foundational role marriage must play for a society.
That's why, as I wrote, I think "marriage in America has been on an unsustainable trajectory for quite some time." The only way to correct that trajectory is to recapture the imaginations of our culture with a more robust and stable definition of the purpose and function of marriage. And folks, it's not that we lack these arguments. It's that they're not being heard.
The task of recapturing imaginations belongs primarily to the intermediate institutions that most fundamentally shape our imaginations: the family and the Church.
Both must stop being squeezed out of territory that is rightfully theirs.
Given the current trajectory of marriage, I'd suggest national same-sex marriage is likely, but I certainly do not think it's inevitable. The Court left room for citizens to work at the state and local levels. And this is good news, and it reflects the potential for the best kind of change: from the ground up, not the top down.