Goodness, John, talk about jumping into a minefield…
Anyway, FWIW, here are my two cents. To start with, it’s worth saying that if anyone had asked me for my views on gay marriage a decade or so ago, I would have been astonished. The idea had never really occurred to me. The debates of recent years have changed all that, however. Having thought it through, it’s difficult to think that the utilitarian objections to same sex unions stack up too well.
There are, of course, those who have deeply-felt moral objections to gay marriage and there are others who make a moral case for changing the law to allow it. I don’t share the former and I’m not completely persuaded by the latter, but as my general view is that morality ought, where feasible, to be a matter for individuals rather than the state, I’ll leave those controversies to others, pausing only to observe that changes in the law that bring a little happiness, resolve some painful practical injustices (from hospital visitation rights to the ability to benefit from the spousal Death Tax exemption) and help take the previously marginalized deeper into ‘regular’ society should, probably, be seen as a Good Thing.
The role of the Right should be to shape the way that this change takes place, by building in, for example, free speech and ‘conscientious objection’ protections to those who do not go along. If that’s the aim, a position of outright opposition is not the best place to begin,
The strongest potential argument against changing the law (other than the generally sound principle that there should be a presumption against tinkering with society’s more important institutions) is that it will fundamentally change the nature of marriage, an institution that, for all its flaws, undoubtedly plays a useful part in holding society together. But does that argument hold up? Theoretically, and for very obvious reasons, same sex unions represent an enormous change, even to a robust, flexible institution that has over the centuries been governed by a bewildering range of frequently inconsistent rules, but the magic word is ‘theoretically’.
Homosexuals make up a small percentage of the population and what evidence there is would suggest that only a small percentage of that small percentage has any interest in getting married (for the most part, I suspect that they’d just like to know that they could if they wanted to). Under the circumstances the idea that giving this tiny minority the right to marry would have any impact on the behavior of the remaining 96 percent (pick a number) of the population is highly unlikely. If anything, it might actually reinforce the idea of marriage as a desirable goal.
There’s also something else to consider. Much as some might think that the grubby business of politics shouldn’t intrude into a debate like this, it does and it will. Like it or not, this issue is a political marker of far greater weight than its practical consequences (at least as I see them) would merit. Back in the day, the GOP’s leadership understood this and used it, rightly, wrongly but undeniably successfully, to the Republicans’ political advantage. The signs are that the mathematics behind that calculation is going into reverse and that the GOP’s position on this issue is, increasingly, costing it support, particularly among the younger voters who will be essential if there is to be any hope of bringing an end to the current Democratic ascendancy. For those conservatives who see opposition to gay marriage as a vital matter of principle that may not matter, but for anybody else on the right to take a stance that may help prolong Democratic misgovernment looks like an awfully high price to pay merely to stop two men or two women walking down the aisle together.