15 Greatest Arguments Against Same-Sex Marriage by the Chief Justice

Photo credit: Joshua Pinho
Photo credit: Joshua Pinho

Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissent in Obergefell (imposing same-sex marriage in all 50 states) was hardly less blistering than the infamously sharp-tongued Justice Scalia.  Here are his top 15 critiques for Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion for the majority uncovering a new right to gay marriage:

15. Marriage is not irrational. “The fundamental right to marry does not include a right to make a State change its definition of marriage. And a State’s decision to maintain the meaning of marriage that has persisted in every culture throughout human history can hardly be called irrational.”

14. Kennedy stopped debate. “Supporters of same-sex marriage have achieved considerable success persuading their fellow citizens—through the democratic process—to adopt their view. That ends today. Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law. Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept.”

13. His opinion is based on arrogance, not law. “The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment. The right it announces has no basis in the Constitution or this Court’s precedent. . . . As a result, the Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?”

12. Marriage is based on biology not bigotry. “This universal definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman is no historical coincidence. Marriage did not come about as a result of a political movement, discovery, disease, war, religious doctrine, or any other moving force of world history—and certainly not as a result of a prehistoric decision to exclude gays and lesbians. It arose in the nature of things to meet a vital need: ensuring that children are conceived by a mother and father committed to raising them in the stable conditions of a lifelong relationship.”

11. ‘The Heart Wants What it Wants’ Is NOT in the Constitution. “Stripped of its shiny rhetorical gloss, the majority’s argument is that the Due Process Clause gives same-sex couples a fundamental right to marry because it will be good for them and for society. If I were a legislator, I would certainly consider that view as a matter of social policy. But as a judge, I find the majority’s position indefensible as a matter of constitutional law. . . . There is, after all, no ‘Companionship and Understanding’ or ‘Nobility and Dignity’ Clause in the Constitution.”

10. Wasn’t Dred Scott Bad Enough? “The need for restraint in administering the strong medicine of substantive due process is a lesson this Court has learned the hard way.  The Court first applied substantive due process to strike down a statute in Dred Scott v. Sandford, 19 How. 393 (1857). There the Court invalidated the Missouri Compromise on the ground that legislation restricting the institution of slavery violated the implied rights of slaveholders. The Court relied on its own conception of liberty and property in doing so. . . Dred Scott’s holding was overruled on the battlefields of the Civil War and by constitutional amendment after Appomattox. . .”

9. Gay Marriage is Not Interracial Marriage. Apples and Oranges Dude. “Removing racial barriers to marriage therefore did not change what a marriage was any more than integrating schools changed what a school was. As the majority admits, the institution of ‘marriage’ discussed in every one of these cases presumed a relationship involving opposite-sex partners.’”

8. There is no privacy right to public benefits. “In sum, the privacy cases provide no support for the majority’s position, because petitioners do not seek privacy. Quite the opposite, they seek public recognition of their relationships, along with corresponding government benefits. Our case shave consistently refused to allow litigants to convert the shield provided by constitutional liberties into a sword to demand positive entitlements from the State.”

7. Polygamy please? “Although the majority randomly inserts the adjective ‘two’ in various places, it offers no reason at all why the two-person element of the core definition of marriage may be preserved while the man-woman element may not. . . .It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage. . . When asked about a plural marital union at oral argument, petitioners asserted that a State ‘doesn’t have such an institution.’ Tr. of Oral Arg. on Question 2, p.6. But that is exactly the point: the States at issue here do not have an institution of same-sex marriage, either.”

6. Did I say dangerous? The majority’s opinion, writes Roberts, is “dangerous to the rule of law. The purpose of insisting that implied fundamental rights have roots in the history and tradition of our people is to ensure that when unelected judges strike down democratically enacted laws, they do so based on something more than their own beliefs. The Court today not only overlooks our country’s entire history and tradition but actively repudiates it, preferring to live only in the heady days of the here and now. I agree with the majority that the “nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times.” Ante, at 11. As petitioners put it, “times can blind.” Tr. of Oral Arg. on Question 1, at 9, 10. But to blind yourself to history is both prideful and unwise.”

5. Judicial Supremacy is contemptuous of the public debate. “Nowhere is the majority’s extravagant conception of judicial supremacy more evident than in its description—and dismissal—of the public debate regarding same-sex marriage. Yes, the majority concedes, on one side are thousands of years of human history in every society known to have populated the planet. But on the other side, there has been “extensive litigation,” “many thoughtful District Court decisions,” “countless studies, papers, books, and other popular and scholarly writings,” and “more than 100” amicus briefs in these cases alone. Ante, at 9, 10, 23. What would be the point of allowing the democratic process to go on? It is high time for the Court to decide the meaning of marriage, based on five lawyers’ “better informed understanding” of “a liberty that remains urgent in our own era.” Ante, at 19. The answer is surely there in one of those amicus briefs or studies.”

4. Kennedy expands his own power at the People’s expense. “The Court’s accumulation of power does not occur in a vacuum. It comes at the expense of the people. And they know it. . . . When decisions are reached through democratic means, some people will inevitably be disappointed with the results. But those whose views do not prevail at least know that they have had their say, and accordingly are—in the tradition of our political culture—reconciled to the result of a fair and honest debate. In addition, they can gear up to raise the issue later, hoping to persuade enough on the winning side to think again. . . .Closing debate tends to close minds. People denied a voice are less likely to accept the ruling of a court on an issue that does not seem to be the sort of thing courts usually decide.”

3. Kennedy’s decision imperils religious liberty. “Federal courts are blunt instruments when it comes to creating rights. . . .Today’s decision, for example, creates serious questions about religious liberty [which]. . . .—unlike the right imagined by the majority—is actually spelled out in the Constitution. . . . Indeed, the Solicitor General candidly acknowledged that the tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question if they opposed same-sex marriage. See Tr. of Oral Arg. on Question 1, at 36–38.  There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this Court. Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority.”

2. Kennedy gratuitously insults people who disagree with him on marriage. “Perhaps the most discouraging aspect of today’s decision is the extent to which the majority feels compelled to sully those on the other side of the debate. The majority offers a cursory assurance that it does not intend to disparage people who, as a matter of conscience, cannot accept same-sex marriage. Ante, at 19. That disclaimer is hard to square with the very next sentence, in which the majority explains that “the necessary consequence” of laws codifying the traditional definition of marriage is to “demea[n] or stigmatiz[e]” same-sex couples. Ante, at 19. The majority reiterates such characterizations over and over. By the majority’s account, Americans who did nothing more than follow the understanding of marriage that has existed for our entire history—in particular, the tens of millions of people who voted to reaffirm their States’ enduring definition of marriage—have acted to “lock . . . out,” “disparage,” “disrespect and subordinate,” and inflict “[d]ignitary wounds” upon their gay and lesbian neighbors. Ante, at 17 ,19, 22, 25. These apparent assaults on the character of fair minded people will have an effect, in society and in court. See post, at 6–7 (ALITO, J., dissenting). Moreover, they are entirely gratuitous.”

1. Kennedy’s decision is a Constitution-free zone. “If you are among the many Americans—of whatever sexual orientation—who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”

Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at American Principles in Action.