Opinion of the Court
precedent protecting the right of a married couple not to procreate, it cannot be said the Court or the States have conditioned the right to marry on the capacity or commitment to procreate. The constitutional marriage right has many aspects, of which childbearing is only one.
Fourth and finally, this Court’s cases and the Nation’s traditions make clear that marriage is a keystone of our social order. Alexis de Tocqueville recognized this truth on his travels through the United States almost two centuries ago:
“There is certainly no country in the world where the tie of marriage is so much respected as in America… [W]hen the American retires from the turmoil of public life to the bosom of his family, he finds in it the image of order and of peace…. [H]e afterwards carries [that image] with him into public affairs.” 1 Democracy in America 309 (H. Reeve transl., rev. ed. 1990).
In Maynard v. Hill, 125 U. S. 190, 211 (1888), the Court echoed de Tocqueville, explaining that marriage is “the foundation of the family and of society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress.” Marriage, the Maynard Court said, has long been “‘a great public institution, giving character to our whole civil polity.’” Id., at 213. This idea has been reiterated even as the institution has evolved in substantial ways over time, superseding rules related to parental consent, gender, and race once thought by many to be essential. See generally N. Cott, Public Vows. Marriage remains a building block of our national community.
For that reason, just as a couple vows to support each other, so does society pledge to support the couple, offering symbolic recognition and material benefits to protect and nourish the union. Indeed, while the States are in general free to vary the benefits they confer on all married couples, they have throughout our history made marriage the