Last May, after Obama’s unsurprising reversal on gay marriage, I argued that the long-term future of the gay-marriage debate wasn’t an inevitable national victory for same-sex marriage but rather a stalemate, with red states staying conservative on the issue, and many of the blue states embracing further liberalization of marriage laws. The only real way to break the logjam — after the passage of dozens of state constitutional amendments properly and clearly defining marriage — would be a sweeping, Roe-style pronouncement from the Supreme Court.
After reading the transcripts of the oral arguments (and with all the caveats about the dangers of predicting court outcomes based on oral arguments), I’d be quite surprised if the high court ruled the Constitution protects a right to same-sex marriage. Even if the Court upheld the Ninth Circuit’s rejection of Proposition 8 and struck down DOMA, without a sweeping constitutional ruling, the gains for same-sex marriage would be marginal and incremental. Swinging for the fences, same-sex marriage activists are realistically looking at perhaps a bunt single.
What then? Same-sex marriage advocates will likely be able to make progress in solidly blue states, but they’ll soon run into the brick wall of the dozens of state marriage amendments passed in the last decade. Then we should enter a period of relative stability, where the red states ideally supplement their “red model” of fiscal policy with a similar red model of social policy — tightening abortion restrictions to their absolute (judicially-permitted) limit, enacting and enforcing state religious-freedom-restoration acts that protect vibrant religious communities, and preserving the definition of marriage while experimenting with policies designed to encourage marriage while reducing the divorce rate and reversing the rise in illegitimacy.
The last element — thinking creatively about reinforcing the marriage culture — is absolutely critical. The same-sex marriage argument never would have gained cultural traction without heterosexuals — in word and deed — redefining marriage away from a child-centered lifelong commitment towards an adult-centered at-will contract for mutual romantic benefit. Same-sex marriage is the fruit of the poisonous tree of our no-fault divorce culture, and unless we can deal with that culture, gay marriage will indeed be inevitable.
Building a sustainable red social model (post–sexual revolution) won’t be glamorous, and it won’t happen overnight. In fact, many of the red states are far more prone to divorce and illegitimacy than the allegedly more libertine blue states. We’ve got work to do. And if we don’t do it — if we as parents, as church members, and as citizens allow our own families, communities, and states to slide ever-further into the sexual-revolution culture of self-indulgence, then there is no fiscal model that will save us from financial and cultural oblivion.
(Oh, and if I’m wrong about the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling and it does find a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, then please forget I ever wrote this post.)
This post first ran here on National Review Online.