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Republicans get on board the same-sex marriage train

The nation’s moral collapse is becoming increasingly bipartisan


A pro-LGBTQ rally in Washington, D.C., last year Associated Press/Photo by Jose Luis Magana (file)

Republicans get on board the same-sex marriage train

If you care to trace this nation’s surrender in the battle to preserve marriage, just look at the span of the last 25 years. Back in 1996, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act by huge bipartisan margins, limiting marriage as recognized by the federal government to legal unions of a man and a woman—period. The bill was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, and it was the law of the land until the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015.

Fast-forward to yesterday in the U.S. House of Representatives, where 47 Republicans joined with all Democrats in voting for the deceptively named “Respect for Marriage Act” that would formally repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and require the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages deemed legal in the state in which they were performed. The bill faces an uncertain future in the U.S. Senate, but the House vote shows us where we stand. America’s political class intends to support same-sex marriage and move along—no turning back.

The signs of the times were apparent even before the Respect for Marriage Act was introduced in the House. Though most Republicans voted against the bill, the big news is that 47 Republicans voted for it. The GOP leader in the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, did not “whip” the bill, meaning Republicans were free to vote their minds (and in accord with their political interests). In other words, the Republican leadership in the House did not put Republican loyalty on the line over the definition of marriage.

There are massive lessons to be learned here. The biggest single lesson is the brute fact that the nation has experienced a profound moral transformation on the issue of marriage. This transformation did not start with same-sex marriage—it started with easy divorce. But the emergence of same-sex marriage as a political issue just a single generation ago shows the moral transformation of the nation.

Back in 1996, President Clinton said he was opposed to same-sex marriage but against the Defense of Marriage Act. But the legislation passed with such overwhelming support (342-67 in the House and 85-14 in the Senate) that Clinton signed it anyway. If anything, Clinton knew when he stared a locomotive in the face and knew how to get out of its way.

But, after just 25 years, the locomotive has gone into reverse. Yesterday, those of us who know that marriage is and can only be the union of a man and a woman found ourselves facing the undeniable reality that our political class will not rise to defend society’s most fundamental institution. Almost four dozen House Republicans voted with the Democrats to preserve same-sex marriage at the federal level.

It is now moral conservatives who are facing the charging locomotive.

Yesterday, those of us who know that marriage is and can only be the union of a man and a woman found ourselves facing the undeniable reality that our political class will not rise to defend society’s most fundamental institution.

The political class is expressing a sigh of relief. Over at The Hill, reporter Emily Brooks congratulated Republicans for showing “Political evolution with same-sex marriage vote.” Others argued that the Republicans had escaped political disaster by showing significant support for the bill. Charles Moran, president of the Log Cabin Republicans (a pro-LGBT group) celebrated the vote as a way to redefine conservativism and Republican goals around shared concerns, “but Republican voters increasingly agree marriage equality is not one of them.”

Is he right?

Well, he is disastrously wrong on the marriage issue, but more likely correct on the politics. Genuine conservatives understand that getting the definition of marriage right is fundamental to preserving society and the larger moral order. Marriage is an ontological reality expressed as a covenant union that demands legal recognition. It is the union of a man and a woman, which Jesus defined as God’s purpose “from the beginning.” Any society that attempts to redefine marriage—even to include same-sex couples—denies the creation-order basis of marriage and subverts the larger society.

But, at least for now, same-sex marriage looks like good politics for the political class—it is what passes for progressive orthodoxy on the left, and it’s increasingly taken as the path of least resistance among many Republicans. It remains true that 157 Republicans in the House voted against the bill, showing that at least some refuse to surrender. But politicians quickly learn two things or they put their futures at grave risk—they have to learn to count votes and to see which way the political locomotive is charging.

This nation’s political class has decided to vote for same-sex marriage, and 47 House Republicans decided to get aboard the train. The scene will soon shift to the Senate. Will the math—and the momentum—be any different there?


R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Albert Mohler is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College and editor of WORLD Opinions. He is also president of the Evangelical Theological Society and host of The Briefing and Thinking in Public. He is the author of several books, including The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church. He is the seminary’s Centennial Professor of Christian Thought and a minister, having served as pastor and staff minister of several Southern Baptist churches.


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