Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Opinion: The future of same-sex marriage

May 31, 2012 by Glenn T. Stanton


Note: As part of our ongoing discussion of constitutional issues, Constitution Daily presents two takes on the long-term impact of President Barack Obama’s decision to support same-sex marriage.

In this opinion piece, author Glenn T. Stanton from offers his take on President Obama’s changing stances on the issue and what he sees as the lack of long-term momentum behind the issue.

In a companion piece, Janson Wu, staff attorney at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, examines the long-range impact on the LGBT community.

President Obama is now the first American president to endorse the idea of males marrying males and females marrying females. This is a game-changer to be sure.

Never has a U.S. president endorsed such a truly radical restructuring of marriage and family, two dramatically essential social institutions.

He says they will strengthen the family, yet multiple research studies reveal that no family formation changes we’ve made with the family over the last 50 years have succeeded in any way in strengthening the family or improving the lot of children. None. Yet, our president is sure this one will.

But his has been a tangled story on this issue.

When running for the Illinois State Senate in 1996, Obama stated, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages”. Less than a month earlier, he assured voters he supported same-sex marriage as “a basic human right.”

But when running for the U.S. Senate on a much larger stage, his position became one of opposition. And in the 2008 presidential race, he said “I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. For me, as a Christian, it is also a sacred union.”

So what is the long-term impact of President Obama’s new stance in support of gay marriage? Well that is difficult to answer because we can’t really be sure what he believes. After all, he has an election coming up and elections have tended to create varying positions for him.

But to be truthful, it seems the President has been the only one unaware of what his position really is. Those who truly believed his position was “evolving” were no doubt few.

For a President’s influence to be significant and long-lasting, he must have a strong, consistent position of moral and legal conviction. This appears not to be the case here. Additionally, the president was forced into his announcement, needing to clarify the conflicting messages from his vice president disagreeing with the boss and David Axelrod disagreeing with the vice president.

An announcement under such conditions is not what clear moral leadership is made of. And what do we make of his statement that, as he puts it, access to “a basic human right” should be left up to each state to decide?

For all the talk of President Obama as our first “gay President” he has not struck a very consistent nor clear tone on this issue. It seems gay marriage proponents are just happy he said the words.

As one who has paid very close attention to his issue for the last 10 years, there is no part of me that believes gay marriage is inevitable.

The Americans whose opinion really counts in a democracy – those who actually vote – have spoken on this issue with a strong and consistent voice. That conviction has not been slipping.

Yes, young people are shown to favor marriage redefinition at higher rates, but one of the defining marks of being young is having the luxury of a more liberal idealism. But the young get older. They get married, they have babies, mortgages, jobs, responsibilities. And these things change them. This is the trajectory of every generation.

Look who came to the White House as the world-changing hippies moved into adulthood: Ronald Reagan.

Certainly the flower children did not propel him to the Oval Office, but a few did and the rest could not prevent his landing there. What seems inevitable in one age often fails to become so in the next.

I think this will be true of the current effort to androgenize marriage and parenting. A few more states could pass it, but it will not become widespread or federalized. Regardless of what the President says today.

Glenn T. Stanton is the author of five books on various aspects of the marriage and parenting, the two most recent: Secure Daughters Confident Sons, How Parents Guide Their Children into Authentic Masculinity and Femininity (Multnomah, 2011) and The Ring Makes All the Difference: The Hidden Consequences of Cohabitation and the Strong Benefits of Marriage, (Moody, 2011). For more information, go to

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