The GOP and the Respect for Marriage Act

As I recently noted, the GOP performed miserably in the 2022 midterms because of a.) Trump, and b.) culture-war issues (specifically, abortion). 

The Republicans’ 2022 strategy—digging in their heels on both abortion and Trump—went against both public opinion polls, and the 1994 GOP playbook. (In the 1994 midterms, under President Bill Clinton, the GOP took back both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Now that was a red wave.)

Which brings us to the Respect for Marriage Act. The Respect for Marriage Act would bring about the federal recognition of same-sex marriage. This would prevent socially conservative state legislatures from invalidating same-sex marriage at the state and local levels.

To state the conclusion from the outset, I believe that Republican lawmakers should support the so-called Respect for Marriage Act…though my reasons are not as politically correct as some of you might think. 

I’m not the only Republican who supports the act, moreover. Nancy Mace is a Republican who represents South Carolina’s 1st congressional district in the House of Representatives. Mace has written an op-ed for Fox News in support of the Respect for Marriage Act, entitled, “Respect for Marriage Act: The very definition of freedom and liberty”. 

Mace writes:

“I always have and always will support the right of any American to marry the person of their choosing. Any two people – regardless of their zip code, color of their skin, gender or sexual orientation should be free to marry and receive any of the rights and benefits associated with their union.”

Representative Mace is, of course, leaving out “throuples”—marriages of three individuals. And no, this isn’t scaremongering: just last year, CNN ran a story about three gay men “in a committed polyamorous relationship” adopting a baby. 

Ten years ago, everyone claimed that such things would never happen. Well, such things are now here. But I’m not raining on anyone’s parade…just making an observation. Facts are facts, as they say.

Representative Mace also states: 

“I love marriage. In fact, I love it so much I’ve already done it twice and am engaged for a third time.”

Mace is on her third marriage, in other words. This airy declaration reveals just how much this thing called “marriage” has changed since the 1960s. 

At the beginning of the 1960s, marriage was seen as a sacred and forever bond between one man and one woman. Back then, no one even suggested the legalization of same-sex marriage, of course.

But while gays were admittedly left out, heterosexuals had to play by a lot more rules. Once you committed to a marriage, you were committed. Divorces could be obtained only for just cause, like infidelity or outright abuse.

Then heterosexuals decided that they didn’t like those rules anymore. So we got no-fault divorce. That brought about a wave of divorces in the 1970s and 1980s. What used to be (somewhat quaintly) called “broken homes”.

I remember becoming aware of the divorce phenomenon in 1975, when I was a second grader. I suddenly realized that about a fourth of the kids in my class had divorced parents. And I attended a Catholic school. I’m sure the percentages were much higher in public schools of that era.

Nancy Mace was born in 1977; I was born in 1968. So while she’s a bit younger than me, we’re both basically Gen Xers, who grew up in post-1960s, post-traditional, post-Christian America. Mace grew up with the aftermath of no-fault divorce, too. Hence her flexible approach to the concept of marriage.

The changes to [the heterosexual] concept of marriage didn’t stop with no-fault divorce. In the 1990s, large numbers of [heterosexual] Americans began shacking up prior to marriage, and having children out of wedlock. At the present time, 40 percent of American infants are born out of wedlock, compared to just 28 percent at the end of the 1980s.

So between 1960 and 2000, [heterosexual] Americans completely diluted the traditional concept of marriage. 

Notice that none of this had anything to do with LGBTQ people. So conservatives—don’t blame “the gays” if you’re unhappy about the state of things.

When same-sex marriage came along in the 00s in a big way, there seemed to be no reasonable argument for opposing it. 

And there wasn’t, not in the context of that time. After all, we already had no-fault divorce, and a widespread acceptance of childrearing without marriage. 

Marriage, by this time, had become an à la carte institution, in which one could mix and match traditional aspects as one chose…or maybe just shack up and have kids out of wedlock. What mattered by then was not the institution of marriage, or even the welfare of children, but the self-fulfillment of adults.

Notice, yet again, that it was heterosexuals who led the radical redefinition of marriage. Not LGBTQ people. I can’t emphasize that point enough.

This brings us back to the GOP and the Respect for Marriage Act. As most of us know, many (though by no means all) Republican lawmakers are opposed to it. 

And yes, such opposition does indeed seem hypocritical. If Republicans want to support traditional marriage, then they should start by reversing no-fault divorce laws for heterosexuals, which have been on the books since the 1960s. They should use their bully pulpits to speak out against heterosexual shacking up out of wedlock, and heterosexual childbirth out of wedlock.

We all know that the above isn’t going to happen. And no, I’m not seriously advocating that. 

The point, rather is: if the objective of Republicans is to enact “family values” legislation, then opposing same-sex marriage is somewhat akin to an obese person eating an entire large pizza for lunch, and then ordering a Diet Coke to drink.

The GOP should support the Respect for Marriage Act, and get on with the more practical business of halting the Democratic Party’s systematic demolition of the U.S. economy. There is no point, in 2022, in holding fast against same-sex marriage, when American marriage and family life have been so radically reconfigured since 1960, anyway. 

Part of being a “conservative”, after all, is the assumption that there is something left to conserve. There is nothing left to conserve regarding the public status of traditional marriage in the secular, 21st-century United States.

But the Respect for Marriage Act should be only a short-term measure. 

Longer term, we should abolish all government recognition of “marriage”, as such. 

All current and future public marriages should be officially recognized as civil unions. A civil union would include any combination of adults, of any sexual orientation and/or gender identity. 

The only limits would be the number of names that could fit on the civil union license. Same-sex couples and throuples? No problem. Polyamorous quintuples consisting of three men and two women? Go for it. Mix and match to your heart’s content.

A civil union would be protected at the federal level, and would include the tax advantages and property rights provisions now mostly reserved for “marriage”.

Traditional marriage would then return to the churches. The government would have no stake in traditional marriage’s definition, expansion, or regulation. Marriage would be removed from our chaotic political and legislative process.

That would make traditional marriage much less universal. But it would—maybe—return traditional marriage to its original meaning and significance.