Conservatives aren't giving up on traditional marriage.
On Tuesday night, as most members of Congress fled for the exits after voting to raise the debt ceiling, a group of conservatives led by Rep. Tim Huelskamp came to the floor to recognize National Marriage Week.
"Marriage isn't a creation of the Western civilization or of the United States of America," said Rep. Michele Bachmann. "Marriage is an institution that was created by none other than by the creator of mankind himself, the Holy God, the God of the Bible."
On the Roots of Marriage
Bachmann's not alone. She's part of a core group of Republican representatives who, unlike a majority of Americans, are not mellowing on social conservatism.
According to the Sunlight Foundation's Capitol Words project, the word "marriage" was mentioned more frequently this month in Congress than during any month since a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was rejected in the Senate in June 2006. This isn't the first National Marriage Week, but with the Obama administration moving to offer more support to same-sex marriages, it is certainly the loudest.
Republicans are heading into midterm elections with hopes of taking back the Senate, and are looking toward coalescing around a presidential candidate who can actually win over an electorate wider than the Republican base. But pushing for traditional marriage may threaten these goals by alienating potential voters. A majority of Americans now say they would support a law legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
That majority wasn't being represented Tuesday night.
"If you open the floodgates to other ideas [about marriage], other concepts, you don't know where it ends," Rep. Doug LaMalfa of California said on the floor. "Multiple marriages, same-sex marriage, there's so many things that are not what the institution is supposed to be about. Indeed, an institution created by God and supposed to be held up and respected by men. And women."
Rep. Ted Yoho, the freshman Republican from Florida and a former large-animal veterinarian, joined in:
Marriage is an institution passed down through thousands of years of human history. The three great religions and others recognize the importance of a marriage, and it's gone through the test of time and it's been understood to be the union of a man and a woman. It is sanctified by God, and it's interesting to note that children only come from the union of one half of a DNA strand of a female and one half of a DNA strand of a father. That's nature's law. That's God's law.
Bachmann, backed by Huelskamp, did offer another suggestion about having children. "I just urge people to consider becoming foster parents," said Bachmann, who has supported 23 foster children. She was also careful to say that the Republican group wasn't trying to condemn anyone who currently lives differently.
The push for preserving traditional marriage is losing its power among the GOP base. While a majority of Republicans still oppose same-sex marriage (61 percent), demographics aren't on social conservatives' side. A majority of Republicans aged 18 to 29 are in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, with 54 percent in support and just 42 percent in opposition.
The House conservatives this week weren't just focused on who's marrying who. In an election year when Republicans are especially conscious of how the party can better appeal to women, LaMalfa went past promoting traditional, heterosexual marriage to a more classical idea of who should be doing what in a relationship:
Your mate is your rock. Your support. When you're in a role like this or whatever it is, it didn't have to be this, it could be any job. Or what she's doing at home, what your spouse at home, taking care of family and kids and all that. You being a rock for them too. It's that partnership which is what marriage is, it was perfectly designed by God. It's the part where mankind gets involved where things can get a little messy. And so through prayer, through sticking to it, the institution of marriage is one that is a rock.
Meanwhile, the typical American family is changing. The American birthrate hit a historic low in 2012, and fewer women of childbearing age are actually becoming mothers. Nearly 41 percent of children are now born to unmarried parents. From 1996 to 2012, the number of cohabitating, unmarried couples jumped almost 170 percent. A recent Pew Research poll found that 62 percent of Americans, and 72 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds, prefer a marriage in which both spouses have jobs and share household and child-raising duties. Forty percent of women are now their family's sole or primary breadwinners.
For some conservatives, this all may be cause for alarm, leading them to praise and promote the classical view of marriage on the House floor. But when so many young Americans are embracing new attitudes toward relationships, the traditional values warriors may be the ones who are truly out of touch.