By Tony Perkins
If you asked the talking heads, they’d say Americans are flocking to the Republican Party because of Joe Biden. It’s a reasonable explanation, considering the dumpster fire he’s made of our economy, energy, and inflation. But there’s another reason that voters are turning to the GOP — and it has nothing to do with the price of gas in Wichita. It’s because under Donald Trump they rediscovered something important: their moral courage. And this week’s marriage debate, however contrived it is, is putting everything they’ve learned to the test.
The 45th president changed a lot of things about the Republican Party, but the greatest gift he gave social conservatives was refusing to be intimidated by tough issues. He took on the abortion lobby, LGBT extremism, and the cancel culture without blinking or apologizing. It was Trump’s presidency that gave rise to the Brian Kemps and Ron DeSantises — leaders who have the nerve to stand up to the bullies in Hollywood, pro sports, Big Business, and Disney. After four years of Trump’s fearlessness, the party of shrinking violets became the cultural counter-punchers, turning a movement that never had the stomach for those fights into hardened warriors.
But the moment has come when that old enemy, political cowardice, is threatening to rise back up — a muscle reflex born from years of the far-Left’s harassment. Pouncing on Justice Clarence Thomas’s suggestion that Obergefell was built on the same shifting sand as Roe, Democrats have laid an interesting trap. Using the Dobbs ruling as their stalking horse, they’re staging a debate on an issue once as central to the Republicans’ campaigns as life itself: same-sex marriage.
“The far-right Supreme Court is on a rampage against the freedoms of the American people,” Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) insisted earlier in the week. “We will not sit idly by as Republicans and their activist judges take our country backward.”
With complete disregard for regular order, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sprung the issue on Republicans, scheduling barely three hours of debate on a vote to repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. She and her party were banking on the fact that Republicans would run scared — terrified of reopening a seven-year-old wound the Supreme Court inflicted in 2015.
Back then, Republicans — like 50 million disenfranchised Americans who voted to protect marriage — were outraged. Twenty-nine states had passed constitutional amendments defining marriage as the union of a man and woman. A total of 35 had gone to the trouble of putting it in their statutory law. And yet five justices, in their arrogance, swatted away those democratic expressions like gnats on a humid day, forcing Americans to live — not under the rule of law — but under judicial tyranny.
From that day forward, conservatives vowed: we would not let the court’s definition of marriage define us. The Left may have had the last word on marriage, but they would not have the final one. The Republican Party went to work, strengthening the language in the GOP platform the next year in 2016 and then retaining that language again in 2020.
Led by FRC, the RNC took an unequivocal stance. “Traditional marriage and family,” we insisted, “based on marriage between one man and one woman, is the foundation for a free society and has for millennia been entrusted with rearing children and instilling cultural values. We condemn the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor, which wrongly removed the ability of Congress to define marriage policy in federal law. We also condemn the Supreme Court’s lawless ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges [which allowed] five unelected lawyers [to rob] 320 million Americans of their legitimate constitutional authority to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”
It was understood then, as it should be now: the issue of marriage is non-negotiable.
Seven years later, after Americans have adjusted to the new normal, Democrats are hoping this is an area of vulnerability in the Republican Party. And this week, some members of Congress seemed intent on proving them right. A surprising number rushed to call the issue “settled,” blasting Pelosi for bringing up such an “unnecessary debate.”
And while the timing is suspect — along with the Left’s motives — every conservative in the nation suffering the consequences of those five justices ought to agree: the defense of marriage is never an unnecessary debate. It’s not a “distraction.” If anything, it’s what Americans have spent these last several years fighting for — the opportunity to return this issue to the legislative arena where it belongs.
Maybe this wasn’t how conservatives imagined it — a fast-tracked vote in a Democratic-controlled chamber with no warning. But it’s still ground the Republican Party should be prepared to defend. After all, what’s changed? Certainly not the importance of marriage to society. Or the party’s stated principles. Or the truth. If the GOP’s excuse for not pushing back on same-sex marriage today is that the “court has ruled,” then they have no business fighting for the sanctity of life either. Remember, the court declared that contentious issue settled too. Five decades later, there was hardly a less-settled issue in the entire world.
Conservatives also didn’t walk away from overturning Roe because of the messy legal scene it might create. They were motivated by what was right, decent, and true. Too many Republicans today expressed concern about the “pandora’s box” it would open to revisit same-sex marriage — when what they should really be worrying about is allowing this attack on the democratic process to stand. The injustice of Obergefell, like Roe, is that it took away Americans’ most basic right: to be heard.
If Democrats want to attempt what they’ve never accomplished — legalizing same-sex marriage without the help of the activist courts — be our guest. If times have truly changed, let them prove it. But no Republican should embrace the judicial thuggery that robbed two-thirds of the country of their constitutional rights.
“It [matters] when the court steps in and makes the law,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) pushed back on the House floor Tuesday. “These are difficult, complex questions involving faith, involving values, involving life… Now my colleagues on the other side… want to take [away] different policy choices — marriage based on race, marriage based on sex — that this body didn’t define, that state legislatures did define… And I think it’s important for my colleagues to know what we’re doing here today. That we’re going to vote on the recognition of marriage as a body on behalf of the people — separate from whatever decision a court may make. That is a vote, that is a choice, that is a decision. And we should not hide…”
To Republicans, who have earned the respect of the country for finding their voice on what matters, Roy is right. You should not hide. If we finally have a chance to debate the future of the most important institution in America, our answer should be what it has always been: marriage matters.