Proponents of gay marriage have managed to frame the issue as one of equal treatment under the law, often asking opponents to demonstrate how the marriage of two men or two women could cause harm to anyone else's heterosexual marriage.

This is an entirely wrong and misleading framework and question. The more relevant question ought to be why governments have an interest in sanctioning marriages at all.

The answer to that one is clear. Because of their concern for the general welfare, governments have a compelling interest in sanctioning behaviors designed to perpetuate order and progress. With that in mind, they have an interest in sanctioning the only kind of sexual relations best designed to lead to healthy children being raised in a way that gives them the greatest chance for success as adults. That is through the marriage of one man and one woman.

The fact that some married people can't have children is irrelevant. The fact that many marriages break up or that some children of marriages are abused does not change the argument. People are inherently flawed. There also are extraordinary citizens who were raised in single-parent or nontraditional homes. But the man-woman marriage template remains the best chance for children and the only type of relationship the state ought to have an interest in sanctioning. Governments typically don't sanction every man-woman union, either. First cousins, for example, often are forbidden to marry, again because of the possible effects on children such a union might produce.

Most Americans, it seems, understand all this. Certainly, most Californians did when they passed Proposition 8. So did voters in 30 other states, most recently Maine. Same-sex marriage has lost every time it has been put to a vote in this country. Even state legislatures in some typically liberal states, such as New York, have defeated the idea.

But now Judge Vaughn Walker of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco has overturned that vote. He not only bought into the popular, but false, framework for marriage as a civil right absent any thought to history, nature or centuries of both secular and religious tradition — he declared that "gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage." To get there, he used tortured legal reasoning that cited the gradual move toward equality of the sexes as a basis for determining that there is no difference between the sexes.

Along the way, he managed to cast those in favor of Proposition 8, including the majority of California voters, as irrational people who base their feelings on moral and religious views, which he sweeps aside as an immaterial basis for a law.

To the contrary, the benefits of heterosexual marriage are rational and time-tested. The effects of gay marriage are unknown. Governments have no interest in sanctioning or solemnizing the love people may have for one another. They do, however, have a great interest in sanctioning a time-tested institution that is best for the raising of children.

That does not mean gay people should be denied equal rights. Indeed, they deserve equal rights in everything from housing to employment, probate and medical care. Marriage, however, should remain within its traditional bounds.

Judge Walker's decision was wrong. The Constitution is silent on the subject of marriage, and the civil rights argument is irrational. Marriage is a state issue, and Californians have settled it at the ballot box. We hope the judges who hear this case on appeal can see this and overturn the ruling.