Until Tuesday, no state had redefined marriage by popular vote. Indeed, 32 out of 32 states that put the issue to a vote defined marriage as a union of a man and a woman.

But in this week’s election, citizens in Maine, Maryland, and Washington State all passed ballot initiatives redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships. Meanwhile, citizens in Minnesota failed to pass a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a man and woman. (It remains so defined, however, by statutory law.)

But a little perspective on the setback is in order. The results were close, and marriage did better in these deep blue states than Mitt Romney did. Of the four states that had marriage questions on the ballot, traditional marriage outperformed the presidential candidate in each and every one:

- In Maine, Romney received 41 percent of the vote, while marriage received 47 percent.

- In Maryland, Romney received 36 percent of the vote, while marriage received 48 percent.

- In Minnesota, Romney received 45 percent of the vote, while marriage received 48 percent.

- In Washington, Romney received 43 percent of the vote, while marriage received 48 percent.

Factor in also that pro-marriage forces were outspent by more than four-to-one, and the battle for redefining marriage is much tighter than headlines might make it appear.

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The exit polls also revealed that young Americans are more likely to support gay marriage. This should motivate conservatives to redouble their efforts to explain the nature and public purpose of marriage—what marriage is and why it is such a significant factor in maintaining civil society and limiting government.

Our marriage law should reflect the truth about what marriage is: a pre-political institution springing from human nature itself. Government should not redefine or recreate marriage, nor should it obscure the truth about what marriage is. Recognizing same-sex relationships as marriages would weaken marriage as a social institution. It would redefine marriage as essentially an emotional bond, thus rendering marital norms arbitrary and less intelligible. It would further delink childbearing from marriage and deny, as a matter of law, the importance of a mother or a father in a child’s life. The outcomes associated with such absence are far from promising.

If the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the issue of marriage this term, as is widely expected, the coming months would offer an important opportunity to focus on the ramifications of redefining marriage. The potential clashes with religious liberty and the realities for educational norms for children is already evident, and they will become more so as three states move forward to recognize same-sex marriage as a result of Tuesday’s votes.

Reprinted from The Heritage Foundation.