Referendum 74 is about the definition of marriage. It’s not an issue of legal rights.
In 2009, voters approved the “Everything but Marriage” law which grants same-sex couples every right and benefit of marriage.
Nor is it about civil rights. While everyone has the right to get married, there is no right to marry whomever you want. Therefore, the question is whether marriage should be defined as the union of “a man and a woman” or just any “two persons.”
This decision requires us to consider the purpose of marriage. Voters have two choices. One side argues that the purpose of marriage is to affirm the love and commitment adults share. “Our love and commitment is the same,” same-sex couples argue. “We should be able to get married.”
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The fact that “love and commitment” has never been a condition of getting a marriage license illustrates that the state has never had an interest in regulating the emotional connection adults share. Indeed, we should all fear the bureaucracy created to oversee such an interest.
Marriage has always served a greater purpose. It not only unites men and women to each other, but it unites men and women to the children who result. No, not every married couple has children. But all children have a mother and father. The absence of a child’s mother and father in her life is not meaningless. Children have a right to know and be cared for by both their mom and dad. Marriage, as currently defined, recognizes this.
That statement is not a judgment of those making heroic efforts under different circumstances, but acknowledges what we already know. Men and women are not interchangeable. Children don’t just need adult supervision; they need their mom and dad. Kids do best when raised by their married mother and father. By making marriage genderless, the Legislature belittles the unique roles of moms and dads. Redefining marriage shifts marriage from being an institution that binds children to their parents to an arrangement focused on the personal desires of adults.
But that’s not all. While the rights of same-sex couples are not dependent on the outcome of Referendum 74, there are rights at stake. Parents stand to lose control over what their children are taught about marriage. Whenever marriage is redefined, schools have no choice but to teach this new, genderless understanding of marriage. Remember, this new definition of marriage replaces traditional marriage. In Massachusetts, kids as young as second grade have been taught about same-sex marriage in class. When parents objected, courts ruled that they had no right to prior notice of the upcoming lesson, or to opt their children out it.
This bill offers no protections for individual rights. In Boston and Washington, D.C., jurisdictions where marriage has been redefined, religious groups like Catholic Charities had to choose between fulfilling their social mission based on their religious beliefs, or accepting this new definition of marriage. As a result, they had to close their adoption programs.
Wedding professionals have been fined for refusing to participate in same-sex ceremonies. A few weeks ago, innkeepers in Vermont had to pay $30,000 because they declined to make their facilities available for same-sex weddings. Recently, Gallaudet University in Maryland suspended a senior university official for signing the referendum petition that allowed the people to vote on the definition of marriage in that state. Doctors, lawyers, accountants and other licensed professionals risk their state licensures for acting in concert with their beliefs about marriage.
When we reject Referendum 74, we reject that kind of intolerance.
Thirty-two states have voted on marriage. Each time, the people have agreed that marriage is between a man and a woman. Now it’s our turn. Rejecting Referendum 74 in the Nov. 6 election affirms what is best for children and honors the rights of everyone in Washington.
Same-sex couples have the right to live as they choose, but they do not have the right to redefine marriage for everyone.
Joseph Backholm is executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington and chairman of Preserve Marriage Washington.