The Fight for Traditional Marriage Lives On in the House of Representatives

Most Americans support legalizing same-sex marriage, but conservatives aren’t ready to surrender.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) speaks to reporters after a news conference May 16, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Matt Berman
Feb. 13, 2014, 6:55 a.m.

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.”{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4734) }}

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.{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4733) }}

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.

What We're Following See More »
These (Supposed) Iowa and NH Escorts Tell All
10 hours ago

Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:

  • Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
  • Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
  • They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
  • One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
Restoring Some Sanity to Encryption
10 hours ago

No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”

What the Current Crop of Candidates Could Learn from JFK
10 hours ago

Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”

Hillary Is Running Against the Bill of 1992
10 hours ago

The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”

Trevor Noah Needs to Find His Voice. And Fast.
11 hours ago

At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”