It would be hard to overstate the importance of the past few weeks in the national conversation regarding the issue of same-sex marriage. President Barack Obama's announcement that he now supports same-sex marriage captured most of the media's attention. Indeed, Newsweek boldly declared in a headline: "The President of the United States shifted the mainstream in one interview."
But the elite media's truncated story of a tectonic shift on this profoundly important concern flies in the face of the way these issues are working themselves out at the grass-roots level.
For example, somewhat neglected in last week's news coverage was a close look at how North Carolina added itself to the supermajority of states that have constitutionally defined marriage between a man and a woman.
North Carolina is an important state to watch. It gave Obama a solid victory in 2008, and the Democratic Party has chosen to host its 2012 convention in Charlotte. It is a racially diverse, rapidly urbanizing state that has attracted extraordinary professional talent to Charlotte's financial businesses and to the high-tech triangle in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.
That North Carolina entertained a marriage amendment on its ballot was sobering to those who are seeking to redefine marriage. Indeed, recognizing the symbolic importance of the North Carolina marriage amendment, opponents of the marriage amendment organized to outspend its supporters. The fact that North Carolina's primary election drew a record number of voters and that the amendment was passed by 61 percent of the electorate was a stunning reaffirmation of marriage.
So despite the unilateral way contemporary media has portrayed same-sex relations culturally, and despite the punditry that talks of watersheds and inevitability, each time the issue of preserving marriage as between a man and a woman has been put to voters, voters have chosen to preserve and protect traditional marriage.
And although the top-level treatment and media spin of the president's shift on the issue of same-sex marriage was unidirectional, there was a lot of important nuance in the way the president shared his change of heart in his television interview with Robin Roberts.
Let us be clear: We do not agree with the president's decision to support same-sex marriage, and we have been critical of his administration for pushing parts of the same-sex marriage agenda even prior to last week's announcement. Nonetheless, we were pleased to hear him recognize the important role that states should play in ultimately determining this issue and the need for civility and respect in public dialogue as the issue moves forward.
We were also pleased to hear the president bring the issue back to the grave concerns many people have about changes to the bedrock legal and cultural institution of marriage, namely how it affects issues of family and faith.
Said the president: "I think it's important to recognize that folks who feel very strongly that marriage should be defined narrowly as between a man and a woman, many of them are not coming at it from a mean-spirited perspective. They're coming at it because they care about families. And they have a different understanding, in terms of what the word marriage should mean. And a bunch of them are friends of mine, pastors and people who I deeply respect."
We appreciate that clear statement of respect and understanding, especially as it comes from this month's most heralded proponent of same-sex marriage. We suggest, therefore, that as this dialogue moves forward, state-by-state, voter-by-voter, that people who have faith commitments to scriptural guidance on families and who appreciate the powerful outcomes afforded by biologically intact families should take heart. Civil, democratic processes are consistently validating your beliefs and understanding about the sanctity of traditional marriage, and even vocal proponents of same-sex marriage can understand and respect that position.
Frankly, more troubling to us than how the president sees the future of marriage is how the judiciary considers the issue. As we have seen in California, unelected judges are playing decisive roles as they assess whether clear majority support for traditional conjugal marriage somehow runs afoul of constitutional protections.
How the media frames an issue is important but, thankfully, not determinative. The president's interview was important politically, but how Americans define marriage continues to be solidly within their sovereign power at the ballot box.