And so it begins. Again.
For months pro-marriage activists have expected a negative decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court. The closeness of the vote, 4-3, was the only real surprise. But more surprises are coming, for as Boston College political science professor Alan Wolfe told The New York Times, the decision "is exactly the right kind of material for a backlash."
The New York Times should know. After the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision 30 years ago, the Times stated that the decision provided "a sound foundation for final and reasonable resolution" of the abortion debate. The Times even opined that the decision was "a major contribution to the preservation of individual liberties," one that would end the "emotional and divisive public argument" concerning abortion.
Oh really? It soon became apparent that Roe vs. Wade ended nothing but lives. The decision touched off a major culture war fought on many fronts. It's in that context that we should view the New York Times headline: "Marriage by Gays Gains Big Victory in Massachusetts." Really?
Here's speculation, but I've written two books on the history of abortion and so what follows is at least an informed guess: We would have more abortions in the United States now than we do, if the Supreme Court had not legalized it nationwide in 1973. Abortion was on the march in the United States during the 1960s and the early 1970s. With legalization of the practice in New York, California, and other states, the number of killed unborns was leaping and resistance to it seemed too little, too late.
You've probably heard the tale of the frog in the pot not jumping out as the water temperature slowly rises and death ensues. Roe vs. Wade raised the water temperature too quickly for those who wanted frog's legs for dinner. The frog hopped out and took on the form of a pro-life movement that stopped the growth of the abortion empire during the 1980s and began to roll it back during the 1990s. The butcher's bill is still high-1.2 million babies each year, by one count-but that's down from the 1.6 million peak and far below the 4 million that some abortionists in the early 1970s anticipated.
The decision in Goodridge vs. Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health also raised the temperature too quickly for a gay-rights movement that had turned the devastation of AIDS into an enormous public-relations victory. Playing on our American sympathy for the sick and weak, homosexual strategists broke down cultural barriers. Where culture goes, law eventually follows, but the key word is eventually. The 4-3 vote itself is one sign of overreach: Judicial attempts to change fundamental law are more likely to stick if a decision is unanimous.
To react successfully to gay arrogance, Christians and conservatives need to put aside divisions over symbolic issues and sideshows. We need now a determined and unified pro-marriage movement. The pro-life cause during the late 1970s suffered when leaders started fighting each other over the kind of legislation or constitutional amendment that would help the most. Leaders of the pro-marriage movement need to come to quick agreement and then push very hard.
They'll have support of some kind from President Bush, who issued this statement right after four Massachusetts judges offered their newer testament: "Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman. Today's decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court violates this important principle. I will work with Congressional leaders and others to do what is legally necessary to defend the sanctity of marriage." Given judicial overreaching, a constitutional amendment is necessary, but the president has not committed himself to that. Christians who generally support but are not tied to the Bush administration need to push hard for that commitment.
Some Republican politicians will look for a way to satisfy social conservatives without alienating gay-rights fiscal conservatives, but on this issue they won't find it. Many Democratic politicians, meanwhile, will dance a minuet, expressing support not for "gay marriage" but for domestic-partner arrangements that would raise the water temperature by only a few degrees. A courageous and clever Democratic presidential candidate could separate himself from the pack by supporting a pro-marriage constitutional amendment, but he would also separate himself from most Democratic activists and funding sources.
So where are we? Despite what the Times says, gays may not have gained a big victory in Massachusetts. The overreach will lead to a big defeat, if pro-marriage forces are courageous and determined.