Will the cause for traditional marriage follow the path of that for preborn life? Will judicial activism and proclamations from social elites find their comeuppance in a generational shift? That seemed to be the hope of many taking to the podium at the March for Marriage, held June 19th in Washington approximately a year after the Supreme Court struck down much of the Defense of Marriage Act that President Bill Clinton had signed into law. It will take more than public displays to strengthen the hobbled institution, but such gatherings do play an important role in bonding concerned individuals into a movement, especially when the powers that be seem to be loudly telling them to go away.
A crowd and cameras will usually attract a gaggle of politicians, but Kansas’s Tim Huelskamp was the only congressperson to make it down to the rally from the Capitol just a few yards away (former Senator Rick Santorum also spoke). Huelskamp lamented the “near deafening silence” coming from his colleagues, among whom only fifty-eight are today willing to co-sponsor a federal constitutional marriage amendment that got 236 votes in 2006. He surmised we were “falling behind in the struggle,” and the work needed to reestablish what was axiomatic just twenty-five years ago can seem daunting in a society where public opinion is now roughly split 50/50 but the biggest media and celebrity voices are solidly in one corner.
Several speakers noted the very impressive record for marriage when the issue is put to the people. And, indeed, voters in thirty-one states have adopted a traditional definition, while the citizens of just three have approved same-sex marriage at the polls (Washington, Maryland, and Maine all in 2012). There were rousing calls to “Let the people vote!” from Democratic New York State Senator Ruben Diaz, a strong voice against that state’s 2011 legislative legalization of same-sex marriage. The Puerto Rico born Senator Diaz helped to bring busloads of marchers from the Big Apple to the District, another place where the people have been denied a direct vote. In an Orwellian bit of legal logic, the D.C. Board of Elections ruled that merely allowing an otherwise legally petitioned referendum that would have potentially overturned the city council’s action would violate the D.C. Human Rights Act. Even the partial democracy used in New York and D.C. is itself an exception, as judgesnot the people or their elected legislatorshave been the primary instruments of policy change in this social revolution which now has touched nineteen states.
While some were still itching for a ballot box fight, others seemed resigned to absorbing unjust blows in the short term and girding for the difficult long-term task of rebuilding a societal structure that has at least partially collapsed. Reverend Bill Owens, Sr., an African American veteran of the civil rights movement decried the comparison of gay marriage to the segregation against which he struggled. He called the current effort a “bullying movement” but looked to the same non-violent responses that helped to defeat the likes of Bull Connor. Referencing the photographers and bakers who have faced legal repercussions for declining to participate in homosexual ceremonies, Rev. Owens declared, “Don’t bake the cake. Go to jail.” He called on all concerned about truth and justice to be “willing to pay the price for disobeying an unjust law.”
Mike Huckabee closed his keynote on the “curse” of “judicial supremacy” with an extended quotation from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail. King made moral distinctions between laws: “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.” He also looked to the process that produced the law: “An unjust law is a code inflicted upon a minority which that minority had no part in enacting or creating because they did not have the unhampered right to vote.” Echoing MLK, Huckabee called on leaders to say to the courts: “If necessary we will be Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but we will not bow the knee to Nebuchadnezzar.” Before comparing an activist judiciary to the Babylonian king, the former Arkansas governor had begun his speech approvingly quoting from another inconsistent and religiously enigmatic leader, namely President Obama who in 2008 cited his own Christian faith when declaring personal support for the traditional marriage definition because “God’s in the mix.”
God was certainly still in the mix for much of this diverse crowd. As I approached from the National Mall, “Hallelujah” and “Gloria a Dios” were about the only things I could understand as the crowd was warmed up with energetic Spanish worship music. Much of the day was translated so that the sizable Hispanic contingent could easily understand the English speakers and the Asian-, Anglo-, and African-American hearers could follow those who spoke from the podium en español.
Religious diversity was also evident. San Francisco Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone gave the opening speech (despite very public pressure from California politicians to skip the event) and Papal Nuncio Carlo Maria Viganò also present. They were joined by Pentecostals, Evangelical Protestants, Orthodox Jews, Orthodox Christians, and others, including those who made no mention of religion such as Doug Mainwaring (a Tea Party leader who introduced himself as a gay man for traditional marriage) and Ludovine de la Rochère, the head of the French group La Manif Pour Tous (March for All) that supports the traditional family structure.
In 2013, Rochère helped to rally hundreds of thousands into the streets of Paris in an event that upended a few French stereotypes among U.S. conservatives but sadly did not derail that country’s legislative approval of gay marriage. Still, she vowed that “We will never surrender, never!” America’s National Organization for Marriage managed to gather hundreds, perhaps a few thousand, to stream up the sidewalks of Capitol Hill. It was a not insignificant, but far from overwhelming showing.
Whether from this judicially chain-sawed stump a great marriage strengthening movement will grow, only time will tell. Pro-lifers have kept coming for decades in the cold of January to remember the infamous anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The Windsor decision striking down DOMA was less sweeping, with state and circuit courts following the Roe social engineering model more directly. And while it may be pulverizing the bedrock of civilization, the redefinition of marriage does not directly kill human beings. Will these distinctions and the June heat tend to sap the fervor of the faithful or will a consistently strong showing help to prevent the second federal shoe from dropping? Justices and congress-people do look out their windows even if the mainstream media largely ignored the event. After singing “Amazing Grace” and praying at the Supreme Court, the crowd quietly and peacefully dispersed to a parting “see you next year” from the organizers. One can only hope.
John Murdock writes on Christian ethics and the care of God’s creation from an ancestral farmhouse in Texas. He was happy to march for marriage on his parents’ 43rd anniversary, and you can follow his infrequent tweets @johnamurdock. Image adapted from Flickr.