Today's debate over "gay marriage" is really about no such thing. It is about a gay marriage license, and if we were to actually debate that issue, the arguments might get quite interesting.
A government-issued license, as any gun owner will surely attest, is not a granting of rights, but an infringement upon them; a granting to government of the power to regulate. This is a very important point, and one that many - if not most - on both sides of the current debate entirely miss.
For traditionalists, the argument against gay marriage often includes the objection that the government should not "sanction" or bless such unions with a license. But since when does a government license confer blessings? Blessings are from God, expressed through our churches; licenses are from government and subject to conditions and regulations. When you got your driver's license, it did not signify that the DMV was celebrating your ability to drive, or granting you such a right. It only signified that you had met certain regulatory thresholds required to purchase the privilege of operating a motor vehicle on government streets. That privilege remains subject, of course, to the state's ongoing scrutiny of your adherence to regulation, and is subject to revocation by the state. You need no license to drive on your own private property.
So it is with marriage.
There is a reason that people must go to court to obtain divorces, but not to break up with girlfriends. Marriages are regulated by the state. Romantic relationships are not.
It is a plain fact that homosexual unions, cohabitation, same sex couple benefits, homosexual churches, marriages, neighborhoods and hospital visitation are outlawed in exactly zero states in this country. A court decision "granting the right to marry" would do no such thing. What it would do, is to make these gay romantic relationships subject to regulation.
At its core, government marriage licensing arose as a way to protect women and children from abandonment, and to protect the parental rights of fathers; ultimately, to ensure the safe and healthy raising of our next generation. Whether any of this was ever really the business of government is another question. What is not in question is that none of these justifications for government regulation apply in any way whatsoever to gay couples.
As it happens, these reasons apply less and less with each passing year to heterosexual couples. The CDC reports that more than 40% of children in the United States are born to unmarried mothers. Beginning in 1970, no-fault divorce laws, now the standard throughout the nation, made leaving a marriage significantly less of a burden, loosening the state's actual control of marriage.
As a result, marriage is nowhere considered a permanent institution under the law, and regulations designed to protect the material well-being of children focus on the financial - paternity suits, child support - entirely separate from the relationship in which the child was conceived.
Marriage is indeed a sacred institution, and it has meant throughout the ages, only one thing. That is still true. Families who wish to live in this tradition can, and ought to, marry in their churches, and abide by the vows that, for the most part, they are already publicly proclaiming in their wedding ceremonies. That's marriage.
What is no longer true, is that government licensing of marriage in the United States is in anybody's interest - if, indeed, it ever really was.
Rather than expand the regulatory state to spy and intrude on gay relationships, the question we should be debating is how to rein in, or even eliminate the state's intrusion into sacred matters such as marriage.