“Advance or Decadence are the only choices offered to mankind. The pure conservative is fighting against the essence of the universe.” — Alfred North Whitehead
As more and more people come to support same-sex marriage, social conservatives and other opponents of marriage equality have been driven to reject the fundamental premise of modern marriage. This is because that premise–namely, that people should marry the person of their choosing and should marry primarily for love and happiness–seems to entail that there’s no good reason why people who are predominantly or exclusively attracted to members of the same sex shouldn’t also be able to marry the person of their choosing.
So you get conservatives insisting that marriage isn’t really about love and happiness after all, but should be tied in some unspecified way to reproduction. (Ross Douthat’s latest column is just one example of this line of argument.) Few opponents of same-sex marriage are willing to bite the bullet and advocate denying various non-procreative groups–the infertile, those past child-bearing age, and those who for whatever reason just don’t want to have kids–access to the estate of marriage. So, it’s hard to see just what would be the practical upshot of upholding the supposed “Judeo-Christian” ideal of marriage-with-reproduction-only apart from opposing same-sex marriage.
In the past, people had a variety of institutional or social pressures trying to dictate whom they should marry and why. This could be economic necessity, family pressure, the desire for social respectability, and so on. The conservative view of marriage may have made sense in such a context. But with those pressures largely gone, at least among large swaths of the populace, people are more or less free to marry whomever they want. So why wouldn’t they marry for love and happiness? (This isn’t to deny, of course, that people still marry for a variety of reasons, some more creditable than others.)
Moreover, how would one put the conservative marriage ideal into practice? By pointedly not marrying for love? Most people I know want to have children (or have them already), but they want to raise their children with someone whom they love and are compatible with. Why would you want anything else? And why would you need to deny marriage rights to those who can’t or don’t want to have kids, or aren’t going to have them on the same terms, to validate your own relationship?