Jewish World Review June 28, 2004 / 9 Tamuz, 5764

Jeff Jacoby

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Romney's profile in courage | The establishment turned out in force for a same-sex wedding in Boston last week.

When longtime gay partners Mitchell Adams and Kevin Smith were married in one of the oldest churches in America on Tuesday afternoon, they were joined by a glittering array of VIPs. Among the guests at the 300-year-old King's Chapel were two former Republican governors of Massachusetts, Boston's mayor and commissioner of police, the president of the state Senate, a former attorney general, a bishop of the Episcopal Church, and pew after pew of influential doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs. The reception afterward was at the Somerset Club — one of the wealthiest and most exclusive in New England.

Whatever else might be said about same-sex marriage, elites in Massachusetts are clearly comfortable with it. The public at large may not yet be ready to radically alter society's most basic institution — even in the Bay State, a majority still says marriage should be defined as the union of a man and a woman. But the attendance at a gay wedding of so many movers and shakers from both sides of the aisle is a good indication of which way the cultural winds are blowing. Less and less is it politically risky to openly support same-sex marriage. Increasingly, it is becoming risky not to.

Which brings us to Mitt Romney.

The governor of Massachusetts was not among the gentry at the Adams-Smith wedding on Tuesday. He was in Washington, telling the Senate Judiciary Committee why the high court of his own state was wrong to throw out the timeless definition of marriage. His testimony was an occasion of genuine leadership. Few mainstream politicians have stepped up to make a principled case in support of that timeless definition, and so far none has done so as cogently as Romney.

He began by arguing that a long-established consensus should not be casually discarded. "Should we abandon marriage as we know it and as it was known by the framers of our Constitution?" Romney asked. "Has America been wrong about marriage for 200-plus years? Were generations that spanned thousands of years and all the civilizations of the world wrong about marriage? . . . Or is it more likely that four [judges] in Massachusetts have erred?"

The Goodridge case was brought by adult plaintiffs, and Romney noted that their complaint was framed as an issue of adult equality: If heterosexual couples have the right to marry, then homosexual couples should be entitled to marry as well.

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"But marriage is not solely about adults," Romney went on. It is also about creating a safe and stable environment "for the nurturing and development of children." Societies need children and children need mothers and fathers — that is why the state has such a strong interest in the nature of marriage. The familiar definition, Romney said, conveys a normative message, a message about society's ideal: "Children . . . have the right to have a mother and a father."

But if gender is irrelevant to marriage, it must be irrelevant to parenthood, too. To legalize same-sex marriage is to proclaim that whether boys and girls are raised with mothers and fathers is a matter of no concern. Already, Romney noted, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has "asked whether we must re-write our state birth certificates to conform to our court's ruling. Must we remove 'father' and 'mother' and replace them with 'parent A' and 'parent B?' "

It won't end with rewritten birth certificates. Romney pointed out that boys and girls will now have to be taught that there is no particular reason why families should be headed by a man and a woman. To be sure, there have always been homes in which, by reason of death or family breakup, children have been raised without a father or a mother. But young people have never been instructed to accept fatherlessness or motherlessness as normal. After Goodridge, they will be.

"Changing the definition of marriage to include same-sex unions," Romney said, "will lead to further far-reaching changes that would influence the development of our children." Teachers and textbooks "may be required to assert absolute societal indifference between traditional marriage and same-sex practice." The raising of children in a culture that treats heterosexual and homosexual unions as equivalent and interchangeable, he warned, will "significantly affect child development, family dynamics, and societal structures." To open that Pandora's box without knowing what will emerge is reckless, to say the least.

Romney began and ended his testimony with a strong repudiation of prejudice and intolerance. But as he must know, that won't protect him from being castigated as a bigot, a hater, a homophobe — all the insults that rain down on those who insist that gays and lesbians can be treated with fairness and respect without abandoning something as fundamental as the meaning of marriage.

This wasn't an issue Romney had to take on. He could have played it safe — accepted Goodridge as a matter beyond his control, decided it wasn't worth fighting over. His willingness to stick his neck out is both principled and brave. Agree or disagree with the stand he is taking, give the man credit for being a profile in courage.

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Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.

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