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Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

Defending the Legislature's right to defend marriage

Special to The Times

The Washington Supreme Court's recent ruling that the state's 1998 Defense of Marriage Act is constitutional is a win for our democratic process and the majority of Washington citizens who believe marriage should only be between one man and one woman.

This case is as much about the separation of powers and upholding the state constitution as it is about marriage. Regardless of where you stand on this intensely emotional issue (and a December 2005 Elway poll showed that only 35 percent of respondents favored same-sex marriage), the Legislature, not the court, had the duty and right to define marriage.

Considering that the judicial branch has a history of legislating from the bench, it was stunning for some that the court recognized the clear separation of powers and upheld the Legislature's intent. But this is how our judicial system is supposed to act.

What is society's interest in defining traditional marriage? If we had no government institution called marriage, people would choose to live together based on their feelings for each other or for achieving some common purpose. We would soon recognize that only one type of relationship would rise to the level of critical government interest and concern — that is the relationship between one man and one woman, because it has potential to produce offspring.

Society would quickly determine that providing incentives to keep these relationships intact, for as long as possible, should be a very high priority. Through reasonable legal means, we would make provisions for these relationships to hold property, share benefits and provide the best possible nurturing environment for the next generation. We would also determine the conditions for the resolution of these benefits and responsibilities in the event that the marriage is terminated. That is exactly what we have done in defining marriage.

It is important not to change the focus of people entering into the marriage contract. This is not about feelings and it is not about the mutual benefit of the two parties. It is about the next generation. The best interest of children is to be raised by their biological mother and father. Society needs to do more to encourage moms and dads to stay together and make the sacrifices necessary to take care of kids.

Supporters have said same-sex marriage would strengthen the institution of marriage and family by reaffirming commitment and fidelity. But judging by data about the Netherlands, where homosexual relationships gained legal recognition in 1998, the opposite is happening. Studies have shown that since these changes, the proportion of the Dutch population that is married has been steadily decreasing while the proportion of the divorced population has been steadily rising.

The Netherlands' decision to sanction same-sex marriage comes amid the equalization of other types of relationships with marriage there. The Netherlands created "registered partnerships" in 1998, in some ways similar to Vermont's civil unions or California's domestic partnerships. A registered partnership, which is available to heterosexual and homosexual couples alike, is a contractual agreement between two people that provides many of the same benefits as marriage. During this time, there was a notable increase in marriage dissolution among heterosexual couples and even "flash annulments," in which a couple mutually decides to downgrade their marriage to a registered partnership and then terminates it, thus avoiding the complex divorce process.

These changes have devastated Dutch marriage. When society demands less commitment to the institution, people also demand less. I fear that if we were to follow the Netherlands' example, it would have a terrible effect on marriages here in the U.S.

One might argue that we could easily include other relationships without hurting the traditional institution of marriage. The homosexual community says "gay marriage" is one of those. What about a polygamous relationship in which a man has two or more wives? Or a bisexual who wants a husband and a wife? What about nonsexual relationships, such as same-sex siblings; an elderly parent dependent on an adult child; two good friends, and so forth? All of these relationships have value for the parties involved. Why not include them as well?

The answer is, we need to keep government focusing our resources on the critical group we originally identified, the children. To do otherwise would simply reduce resources available to sustain children and families of traditional marriages and diminish the level of societal commitment to this one most important union.

Children are the future of any society. Although it may not be the only way, protecting traditional marriage is the best way we can take care of our kids.

State Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, was the prime sponsor of the Senate version of the Defense of Marriage Act bill in 1998. The Legislature passed the House version of DOMA that year.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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