Emphasizing the reasons American law and custom traditionally defined marriage as a union of a man and a woman might have helped salvage as much of the marriage culture as possible even if same-sex marriage supporters still ultimately won the debate. It also might have awakened the country to the growing divergence between the private and public purposes of marriage. Instead many social conservatives hoped to re-stigmatize homosexuality.
Social conservatives avoided compromises, like decoupling some incidents of marriage from the institution itself and extending them to individuals regardless of relationship status. While this wouldn’t have satisfied those whose main goal was “marriage equality” in culture and law, it might have met the need for tangible benefits like hospital visitation without the “separate but equal” approach of civil unions or domestic partnerships—which social conservatives opposed in any event.
The end result is that millions of Americans, especially the young, now believe, as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat put it, that “the procreative understanding of [marriage] was founded entirely on prejudice, and that the shift away from a male-female marital ideal is analogous to the end of segregation.”
That view, if taken to its logical conclusion, has the potential to be far more destructive to marriage and the family than anything gays and lesbians could possibly do.