In 1996 Congress passed and then-president Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA as it came to be called. The act provides that no state would be required to “give effect” to another jurisdiction’s legislation or judicial decision establishing so-called "same-sex marriage.” It also defined marriage, for federal purposes, as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”
In 1996 President Clinton told a gay magazine that he was “opposed to same-sex marriage.” He added that he believed marriage was “an institution for the union of a man and a woman.” Sound familiar? It is remarkably similar to what candidate Obama said during the campaign. But while President Clinton backed his words up with actions, President Obama is trying to have it both ways.
As you undoubtedly know, the President and Attorney General Holder have announced that they will no longer defend DOMA in the federal courts. Their justification is that upon further review they have concluded that the statute which they defended for the first two years of the Administration is unconstitutional.
At the same time, they insist that they will enforce DOMA on the federal level. The question is "Why?" If you think that the statute is unconstitutional and unworthy of defense, why enforce it at all? That only makes sense if you want to have it both ways, that is, if you want to play the so-called “personally opposed but . . .” card. You want to be able enjoy the political advantages that flow from claiming solidarity with protectors of traditional marriage while all the while undermining their cause.
For those of you who remember the 1980s, the “personally opposed but . . .” gambit was most closely identified with then-New York Governor Mario Cuomo. The issue then was abortion, but the gambit worked the same way: an agonized look, complete with a furrowed brow, high-minded declarations concerning your personal beliefs, followed by a catalogue of reasons why your personal beliefs had to remain just that -- personal. It was, of course, utter nonsense then, and it’s utter nonsense today.
There is a world of difference between using the government to enforce religious orthodoxy and letting public policy and the law be shaped by moral conviction. The former is unacceptable, but the latter is necessary.
Law is morality writ large, including morality derived from religious principles. To expect people to divorce their beliefs from their actions as statesmen is to posit a species of human beings that doesn’t exist and never will. All law reflects someone’s beliefs. The question is "Whose?"
With DOMA, the people through their elected representatives overwhelmingly codified millennia of human experience and tradition. They even accommodated a minority view while guaranteeing that the minority view wouldn’t be imposed on the rest of us.
If the President says that he agrees same-sex marriage is wrong, then all he’s got to do is defend the law. If he doesn’t believe that, then he should say so. In either case, he shouldn’t try to have it both ways.
I talk more about the Administration’s disingenuous decision about DOMA on today’s Two-Minute Warning. You can watch it at colsoncenter.org. And be sure to check out the resources we’ve gathered for you about the defense of marriage.
Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.