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John Whitehead's Commentary

Will the Same-Sex Amendment Really Help the Traditional Family?

John Whitehead
According to a survey of pastors reported in the December 2004 issue of Facts &Trends magazine, when asked to name the number one threat to the family, 43% named divorce, 38% named negative influences from the media and 36% cited materialism. Absentee fathers came in at 24%, followed by families that lack a stay-at-home parent at 22%.
Other serious threats to the family that were mentioned included co-habitation before marriage (18%), pornography (17%), and morality not being taught in schools (14%). Some pastors in the survey (13%) felt poverty, unemployment, and/or a poor economy were the worst threats to families in their communities. Still others responded that the biggest threats were parental alcohol use/abuse (12%); parental drug use/abuse (1%); drug use/abuse among teens or children (8%); teen sexual involvement/activity (8%); adultery (5%); teen pregnancy (2%); sexual predators or sexual abuse (1%); or the expense of child care (1%).
Same-sex marriage did not make the list. Yet those pushing constitutional bans on same-sex marriage insist that their prime concern is its impact on the traditional family and the sanctity of marriage. Consequently, when Virginia voters go to the polls on November 7, 2006, they will be asked to decide whether to amend their constitution to prohibit marriage between individuals of the same sex.

If the rhetoric from the various interest groups is anything to go by, this has become a highly charged and emotional issue. Yet on so many levels it seems to be a case of smoke and mirrors.

One of the main criticisms of the proposed constitutional amendment is that it's a moot issue. Indeed, there are already laws on the books prohibiting same-sex marriage in Virginia. In fact, one of these laws prohibits so-called "civil unions" or "other arrangements between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage." Moreover, there is a statute that mandates that any same-sex marriage recognized in another state will be "void in all respects in Virginia."

In addition to Virginia law, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996 to guard against states being forced to recognize same-sex marriages entered into in other states. By implication, therefore, this law also leaves it up to each state to define marriage for itself--which Virginia has already done.

So why waste so much political capital on an issue that has already been decided by the legislature? Is it just more political grandstanding, a convenient ploy to mobilize voters that only succeeds in helping politicians avoid addressing the real problems affecting Americans?

While I agree that the sanctity of marriage and the traditional American family hang in the balance, amending a state or federal constitution to ban same-sex marriage not only fails to address the real problems facing America's families--it also fails the family.

As the pastors surveyed in Facts &Trends rightly understood, those who fail to prioritize their families and fail to consistently live out sound moral principles bear the blame--and the responsibility--for the desperate state of the traditional family.

With America's divorce rate close to a staggering 50%, it's no surprise that divorce is considered the number one threat to the family. And this is one area where not even professed evangelical Christians seem to have an edge. As a 2004 study released by the Barna Group indicates, divorce among "born again Christians" is identical to "those who are not born again."

Furthermore, like the current state of marriage in America, today's home life for children is far from secure. The national average for children born out of wedlock is a stark 36%. Moreover, 40% of unmarried couples who cohabitate have children in the house and almost half of all children have spent part of their childhoods in homes that do not include both biological parents.

One thing is clear--our government cannot cure the moral disease ravaging America and its families. Like so many other attempts by the government to stop moral decay in America, this constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages will not stop the bleeding.

Instead of passing the buck to politicians and political systems, it is time for a real dialogue about what can be done to teach moral values to our young people. Most importantly, it is the responsibility of each American--not the government's--to work to find a solution to what is destroying the family.

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People  (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at Whitehead can be contacted at

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