As I have blogged in the past, I, like Charlie Sykes, am still uncertain on the marriage amendment. The "second sentence" is problematic although I think there is a certain amount of demagoguery around it. It seems implausible, as some have suggested, that it will eliminate private contractual arrangements and the provision of discrete benefits, as opposed to the creation of a status coming with a bundle of rights and responsibilities. But its precise effect is a fair question. Moreover, prohibiting the legislature from creating an institution of same-sex civil unions is not necessarily the same question as the extension of marriage to same-sex couples.
But before we get there, we need to define whether gay marriage could weaken the institution of marriage and, if so, how?
I can't blog my way to a resolution of that question in a single post, but I would like to suggest what are, for me, a set of ground rules for further discussion.
First, I am not interested in arguments based on the supposedly immoral nature of homosexuality. I respect the traditional Judeo-Christian position on this (as well as the arguments of faithful Jews and Christians that the Scriptures do not proscribe committed same-sex relationships). I fundamentally disagree with the blanket notion that morality is none of the government's business. But we are not at a time and place where it is reasonable to think that the government can and should regulate homosexuality.
Second, I think the argument that divorce is a greater threat to marriage than same-sex marriage could be is a red herring. The prevalence of divorce has had baleful social consequences as has the increased incidence of out-of-wedlock births. But that we cannot force people to remain married or prevent childbirth out of wedlock does not mean that we must ignore all other potential threats to marriage.
In my view, there is no anti-poverty initiative that is more important than strengthening marriage. If same-sex marriage would undermine marriage, then it ought not to be permitted.
Third, while not entirely irrelevant, the argument that marriage is not limited to children who want to - or even can have - children is not dispositive on the argument that marriage is based upon procreation. The state might rationally determine that it ought to channel heterosexual relationships into marriage because they can result in children and that this is furthered by holding it out as a norm for all heterosexual relationships.
Finally, Sykes' column (as well as pro same-sex marriage columns by conservatives like David Brooks) - and, on a far less popular level, my own uncertainty - belies the notion that conservatism is fueled by homophobia and that the marriage amendment is some grand Republican strategy to turn out the yahoos.
The best arguments against same-sex marriage are advanced by people like Maggie Gallagher. One thoughtful exposition of her views is here.
I will try to lay out those arguments later. But note that they really have nothing to do with the morality or immorality of homosexuality.
Update: Go to Shark and Shepherd for parts 2,3 and 4.