I suspect the result would be a sizable net loss, especially in midterm elections. (Young voters participate in presidential elections at much higher rates than in midterms.) Nevertheless, it is worth asking whether social conservative opposition to gay marriage is a “no compromise” stance or one on which accommodations can tolerably be made.
Personally, I cannot get whipped up over gay marriage. I strenuously oppose the imposition of the Left’s agenda, including its radical gay rights subpart, on our society. But I distinguish the marriage question from the broader agenda, even though I know gay activists do not — a problem I will get to in due course. I know plenty of gay people, and I don’t think most of them define themselves by their sexuality any more than the rest of us do. I don’t believe most of them are driven by an overarching political agenda. They are just trying to go about their lives. That makes me sympathetic, though it does not persuade me to become a supporter of gay marriage. Yet, my objections are academic, not impassioned. I just don’t care that much about it.
Marriage is an institution rooted in the complementarity of the sexes, the natural procreative capacity of husband and wife, and the benefits of raising children in this natural family unit. To my mind, then, to speak of “gay marriage” and to juxtapose it with “traditional marriage” is to make a category error. Indeed, I think conservatives opposed to gay marriage are steadily losing in the court of public opinion because, on this as on many issues, they failed to take heed of the language in which the debate was framed. Speaking of “traditional marriage” implies that there are non-traditional arrangements that sensibly qualify as marriage despite being foreign to what marriage is. The political argument, moreover, assumes that marriage is something for government to define — as opposed to being a social institution that predates government, and in which government’s involvement ought to be limited to prescribing the legal privileges attendant to marriages society accepts.
Importantly, I don’t see this reasoning as an insult to or bigotry against gay people — I certainly don’t mean it that way. It is just a fact of life. I am not insulted, nor do I feel discriminated against, by the facts that my wife and I would be ineligible for a same-sex union, that I would not be permitted to play in the women’s pro-basketball league even if I were good enough, or that I am deemed unfit to be, say, Polish American of the Year.
By telling me I lack the basic qualifications, society is not undermining my dignity as a human being or the worthiness of my most intimate relationship.
All that said, though, if the people of a state choose to place gay couples in committed, monogamous relationships on an equal legal footing (meaning: analogous legal privileges) as married couples, that is fine by me. For the reasons explained above, such a legally sanctioned arrangement would not seem like a marriage to me, but I don’t feel strongly enough about it to object.
I also believe in our form of democracy. As a matter of law, marriage is a matter fit for state regulation; if the majority of a state voted to recognize monogamous, committed same-sex relationships as a marriage, I don’t see how any of my fundamental rights would be threatened, so I would accept the law just like I accept all legitimately enacted laws with which I disagree. I also believe in federalism: in 50 different states there would be a variety of outcomes: some states would endorse gay marriage, some would preserve marriage as we’ve always known it, virtually all would approve some form of domestic partnership, and everyone would be able to gravitate to places hospitable to their preferences and morality. (If abortion had been handled that way, rather than by the statist, undemocratic imposition of a one-size-fits-all federal dictate, our debates over “social issues” would be much less heated, the confirmation process for federal judges would be far less politicized, and “social conservatives” would probably never have risen up as a national political force.)