I might be more interested in the politics of marriage if the legal standing of the institution were not already degraded to the point of triviality. Here is an experiment: Imagine that you have a marriage that you wish to escape and $50,000 of credit-card debt that you do not wish to pay — which claim do you imagine will prove more enduring? Or try unilaterally canceling a contract with an employee, without showing any fault on his part, simply because he no longer suits your taste. Your contract with your cell-phone provider is legally enforceable, and your marriage vows — “forsaking all others until death do us part” and all that — are not. Our present-day defenders of the sanctity of marriage aren’t exactly Thomas More standing up to Henry VIII; they are huddled around the husk of an institution long debased. Marriage has been shot through the head, and they are calling the dentist. What we call “marriage” today is certainly not the marriage of the New Testament, the Christian tradition, or our Anglo-European heritage. When you go to political institutions to define your social norms, this is what you get. Democracy is kind of stupid that way.
It is worth bearing in mind that it wasn’t the Supreme Court or congressional liberals who ruined marriage, but the people themselves. When Governor Reagan signed the first no-fault divorce law in 1969, he was only certifying what the people had decided, which was that they no longer desired to be bound by the institution of marriage as it had been understood by their ancestors. Reagan regretted his decision, and no doubt the people will regret theirs, too, our present form of neo-pagan soft polygamy having rendered much of our society brutish and unstable. But the deed was done long ago, and all this angst and wailing over “saving marriage” is a pantomime. You might as well form a committee to save the Habsburg empire. The thing that puzzles me about the gay-marriage debate is that gays would much care about access to such an anemic legal institution, but then again the mysteries of romance often are lost on me.