On marriage, just under half of Americans want it to be legal for gay and lesbian couples to wed in their states, while just over a third are opposed, according to the poll.

There is a significant partisan divide over that issue, too, but it could be a moot point in the 2016 campaign if the Supreme Court affirms same-sex marriage.

On the court case, 50 percent said the justices should rule that gay marriage must be legal nationwide; 48 percent said they should not.

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In a telling moment at Tuesday’s Supreme Court arguments over same-sex marriage, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. suggested that he may have found a way to cast a vote in favor of the gay and lesbian couples in the case.

“I’m not sure it’s necessary to get into sexual orientation to resolve this case,” he said. “I mean, if Sue loves Joe and Tom loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can’t. And the difference is based upon their different sex. Why isn’t that a straightforward question of sexual discrimination?”…

[I]t could allow Chief Justice Roberts to be part of a 6-to-3 decision, maintaining some control over the court he leads and avoiding accusations from gay rights groups that he was on the wrong side of history.

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Putting aside previous cases and previous votes, there are a number of institutional reasons Chief Justice Roberts might, and should, cast a vote for the freedom to marry.

First, a Supreme Court ruling authorizing the states to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples would lead to enormous confusion. The court’s decision not to take appeals of earlier cases, or put other appeals of lower court decisions on hold, has induced many couples to marry. Surely, same-sex couples who married when marriage was legal under prior court rulings would remain so. But if the plaintiffs do not prevail, all of the states that recognize the right of same-sex couples to marry in light of lower federal court rulings could revert to their earlier state of affairs…

The consequences of such a ruling would be dramatic — and quite unsettling. Administrative agencies would have to shift policies (again), create new forms (again), and educate their bureaucracies on a variety of matters — all of which could be undone by a new legislative act or state constitutional amendment. Given the sheer number of economic rights, presumptions and obligations that travel under the “marriage” heading, denying gay couples access to a uniform institution, with all the complications, headaches and (possibly) litigation it could bring, seems like the antithesis of restraint.

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“The outcome of this decision will shape the landscape of the church’s ministry in the U.S. for generations to come,” wrote Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. In an interview, he added, “If we have a redefinition of marriage across the board by judicial decree then the church will have a responsibility more than ever to articulate what marriage is in the first place.”

The Southern Baptist Convention, the U.S.’s largest Protestant denomination, is preparing a video series and booklets on marriage and how to address homosexuality, Mr. Moore said. The church is hosting symposiums for pastors on “teaching the biblical witness to marriage” while also “equipping them to minister to gay and lesbian people who don’t agree with us,” he said…

“We’ve reached a stage of vilification,” Wallace Henley a columnist for the Christian Post, wrote last week. American Christians who oppose gay marriage, he wrote, must be prepared to live like persecuted “first century Roman Christians.”

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JUSTICE ALITO: Well, in the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax-exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same-sex marriage?

GENERAL VERRILLI: You know, I — I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I — I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is — it is going to be an issue.

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“The institution of marriage is fundamental and it must be defended,” he told me. “It’s the foundation for the entire culture. It’s been in existence for 5,000 years. If you weaken it or if you undermine it – the entire superstructure can come down. We see it as that important.”

And that means the possibility of Christians – people of faith – engaging in acts of civil disobedience.

“Yes, I’m talking about civil disobedience,” Staver said. “I’m talking about resistance and I’m talking about peaceful resistance against unjust laws and unjust rulings.”…

“I’m calling for people to not recognize the legitimacy of that ruling because it’s not grounded in the Rule of Law,” he told me. “They need to resist that ruling in every way possible. In a peaceful way – they need to resist it as much as Martin Luther King, Jr. resisted unjust laws in his time.”

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What ought to matter for the Court, though, is that the Constitution neither commands states to adopt one of these understandings nor forbids them to do it. No legislators who ratified the Fourteenth Amendment understood themselves to be settling policy on this question or to be handing over the authority to settle policy on it to federal judges. (In this respect same-sex marriage is very different from interracial marriage, bans on which were introduced into the law precisely to enforce the racial hierarchies the Reconstruction Amendments assaulted.)

When the Court ruled in 2013 that the federal government could not define marriage as the union of a man and a woman for the purposes of its own programs, Justice Kennedy’s opinion was full of references to the prerogatives of the states. If the Court now rules that states do not have the authority to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, either, it will be clear that those references were for show, and that the Constitution is the plaything of a willful Court. 

***

The trend is obvious, and despite genuine concern among many conservatives and people of faith, Americans are ready to reject the notion that some people are more equal than others. A large part of the change comes from the public discussion that can only happen at the state level. This is due to the importance of the voter having a direct say in the debate, not leaving it exclusively to politicians and judges…

Leaving the gay marriage fight to the states was and is the only way for one side or the other to truly win over their fellow Americans. We’ve never been fans of being dictated to by the courts or politicians. We are the sovereign and we expect, we demand, to have our voices heard.

It is my conservatism that informs my belief that every American deserves the rights of every other American; I see the 14th Amendment of the Constitution confirming that belief. As a gay woman, I do deserve to be treated as an equal partner in the American society that I love so much, but I also respect the heartfelt concern of many others who see this as an unraveling of a fundamental tradition. All of us deserve a robust and respectful public debate about the issue, and the most effective way to have that conversation is at the local and state level.

***

With the legality of same-sex marriage being argued on Tuesday, the court could allow Republicans to abandon an unpopular position without abandoning their principles or risking a primary challenge. History would effectively be bailing out the party.

Sometimes history helps Democrats, as when the Cold War ended and made the long-held view that they were weak on national security less salient. This year, if the Supreme Court rules that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, the court could free Republicans from defending a policy that makes it far harder to confront their generational and demographic challenges…

If Republicans are running out of room to expand their margins among evangelical voters, then additional gains among white voters will have to come from nonevangelicals. And if you assume that cultural issues are the principal reason white voters break so strongly along cultural lines, then further Republican gains among white voters could be well served by a strategic retreat from same-sex marriage.

***

The owners of the bakery didn’t yell and scream insults at the lesbian couple. They didn’t beat them or threaten them with violence. They merely chose not to sell them a cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony because their religious faith tells them that two women cannot marry. And that, apparently, is an example of hate…

But how about the lesbian couple? They went to considerable effort to make trouble for the bakery — and the effort succeeded. It was driven out of business. Could that not be described as an expression of hate?…

The problem is that it’s not at all clear that rejecting the legitimacy of same-sex marriage on religious grounds is evidence of hating homosexuals — or that hating those who reject the legitimacy of same-sex marriage on religious grounds is morally justified.

What is clear is that significant numbers of gays and lesbians are intent on acting as if both were perfectly obvious, and on using the organizing power of social media to drive the point home against anyone who violates the supposedly supreme commandment against “hating” homosexuals in this very broad sense, and even against anyone who fails to express an adequate level of hatred toward these “haters.”

***

For an increasingly large segment of the gay activist community, the debate about homosexuality and society is no longer about equality before the law—if it ever was. It’s about enforcing groupthink. This attitude largely explains the furor over various religious liberty laws, which would, for example, permit some businessmen to abstain from offering their services at gay weddings…

Nor is simple agreement with gay marriage sufficient. Even respectable elements of the gay left will not be satisfied until everyone accepts the full panoply of the progressive policy agenda, and, moreover, make a public show of that commitment. “It’s not a coincidence that Cruz is anti-gay and also anti-social-safety net, anti-reproductive justice, and anti-affirmative action,” wrote Michaelson. “What extremely fortunate white gay men like Reisner and Weiderpass don’t understand is that it’s all one big package: the classism, the religious conservatism, the social conservatism—these all go together.”

It would seem to follow that being deemed an acceptable interlocutor is dependent upon your acceptance of the “one big package” that is contemporary progressivism. Are you pro-gay marriage but support tax cuts? Maybe you’re a gay Catholic who opposes abortion, an issue that it no way affects gay men? Do you believe that citizens should be judged not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character, and therefore oppose race-based preferences in hiring? If so, are you then a sell-out, because “these all go together” with being attracted to people of the same sex?

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It’s important to understand that this wave of coercive intolerance is not mere aberrational excess but the natural and inevitable byproduct of grafting same-sex relationships into an institution that is a key building-block to civilization itself. Even in the face of strong sexual-revolution headwinds, our law and culture continue to not only protect marriage and incentivize marriage, it is still seen by hundreds of millions of Americans as the ideal family relationship. In other words, by grafting same-sex relationships into marriage, activists want their relationships to enjoy all the legal and cultural protections marriage has built up through millennia of human experience. To oppose “marriage” is to oppose civilization.

But marriage did not become an “ideal” or civilizational building-block by simply being the most intense and committed form of adult relationship. In fact, at its core, marriage is not about adults — or adult happiness — at all. It has been at the heart of every enduring world culture not because these cultures share the same faith, or share the same ideals about romantic love and adult happiness, but because life has long taught us cultures thrive when children are raised in stable, two-parent, mother-father homes. Indeed, spouses from many cultures would laugh at the notion that “happiness” or “romance” has anything to do with the nature and familial bond of their marriage…

But now we’re racing off on our own cultural experiment, one that began two generations ago when Baby Boomers decided they needed to shed their spouses at will, and continues now with the equally radical step of redefining who a “spouse” can be and re-ordering marriage to center completely and totally on adult emotional contentment. And we’re racing on despite the clear record that families who maintain the traditional bonds do far better — in aggregate — emotionally, socially, and economically than families who shun tradition to carve out their own definitions of “ideal.”

***

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, the pro-choice side of the abortion debate frequently predicted that legal abortion would reduce single parenthood and make marriages more stable, while the pro-life side made the allegedly-counterintuitive claim that it would have roughly the opposite effect; overall, it’s fair to say that post-Roe trends were considerably kinder to Roe’s critics than to the “every child a wanted child” conceit. Conservatives (and not only conservatives) also made various “dystopian” predictions about eugenics and the commodification of human life as reproductive science advanced in the ’70s, while many liberals argued that these fears were overblown; today, from “selective reduction” to the culling of Down’s Syndrome fetuses to worldwide trends in sex-selective abortion, from our fertility industry’s “embryo glut” to the global market in paid surrogacy, the dystopian predictions are basically just the status quo. No-fault divorce was pitched as an escape hatch for the miserable and desperate that wouldn’t affect the average marriage, but of course divorce turned out to have social-contagion effects as well. Religious fears that population control would turn coercive and tyrannical were scoffed at and then vindicated. Dan Quayle was laughed at until the data suggested that basically he had it right. The fairly-ancient conservative premise that social permissiveness is better for the rich than for the poor persistently bemuses the left; it also persistently describes reality. And if you dropped some of the documentation from today’s college rape crisis through a wormhole into the 1960s-era debates over shifting to coed living arrangements on campuses, I’m pretty sure that even many of the conservatives in that era would assume that someone was pranking them, that even in their worst fears it couldn’t possibly end up like this…

All this may tell us exactly nothing about the implications of same-sex marriage. History rarely repeats itself exactly, and a worldview can be prophetic on several points and all wrong on another. Moreover, the conservatives (and conservative-friendly liberals) who might agree with some of the above but also think that same-sex marriage is itself basically bourgeois, not revolutionary, may be vindicated in a way that the people who made a “conservative case for abortion” (a half-forgotten but substantial bunch) in the 1970s mostly were not. Religious conservatives have reasons to be doubtful on this point, but the future is unwritten, and we see through a glass darkly in interpreting what this particular change will ultimately mean.

But while we wait for its official ratification, the likely victors should just remember that what’s “wild,” whether in analysis or in prophecy, is not necessarily wrong.

***

Same-sex relationships not only lack the ability to create children, but I believe they are also suboptimal environments for raising children. On a personal level, this was an agonizing realization for me to come to. I have always wanted to be a father. I would give just about anything for the chance to have kids. But the first rule of fatherhood is that a good dad will put the needs of his children before his own—and every child needs a mom and a dad. Period. I could never forgive myself for ripping a child away from his mother so I could selfishly live out my dreams.

Same-sex relationships, by design, require children to be removed from one or more of their biological parents and raised absent a father or mother. This hardly seems fair. So much of what we do as a society prioritizes the needs of adults over the needs of children. Social Security and Medicare rob the young to pay the old. The Affordable Care Act requires young and healthy people to buy insurance to subsidize the cost for the old and sick. Our schools seem more concerned with keeping the teachers unions happy than they are educating our children. Haven’t children suffered enough to make adults’ lives more convenient? For once, it would be nice to see our society put the needs of children first. Let’s raise them in homes where they can enjoy having both a mom and a dad. We owe them that.

At its core, the institution of marriage is all about creating and sustaining families. Over thousands of years of human civilization, the brightest minds have been unable to come up with a successful alternative. Yet in our hubris we assume we know better. Americans need to realize that same-sex relationships will never be equal to traditional marriages. You know what? I’m okay with that.