So how did "same-sex marriage" get to be a political issue in the first place -- the kind of issue that draws presidents and presidential contenders into the smoke enveloping this extraordinary battlefield?
Does Barack Obama's opinion on the matter matter in the least? For that matter, does Mitt Romney's? The issue of whether men may lawfully marry men and women women is religious, is it not? Isn't it cultural at the very least? Would Teddy Roosevelt recognize the issue? Would James Madison or Thomas Jefferson? Not a chance.
Politics as the key to human happiness was a notion unknown until fairly recent times. Most of life's concerns and satisfactions were off limits to the political fraternity, which in those times was indeed a fraternity. People tended to work through, without political advice or intervention, the everyday questions of everyday life, starting with how can I be happier and richer than I am at this minute?
It does no good, perhaps, to point this out. The inevitable comeback is that we changed our minds, as a people, due to the disagreeable experiences that freedom sometimes entails. We wanted things we couldn't get without some powerful help. We told our political representatives what we wanted. They replied, with just a glint of naked ambition in their eyes, OK, here's what we do...
And here we are today, with the rules and regulations of marriage on the political agenda. President Obama confides that he has come around to the idea that freedom involves the right to marry a person of the same sex, irrespective, he fails to add, of whatever the entire human race said on the subject prior to his coming around. So-called -- by a snooty and unfriendly media -- "social conservatives" object to the president's change of heart, as well as to the pressures that brought it about: chiefly, it would seem, the desire to satisfy a crucial and well-heeled element of his re-election constituency.
It's all about politics, we quickly learn, this business of trying to uproot the marriage canons, from coast to coast. The existing canons don't give particular influential voters what they want; to wit, marital rights reserved in most states for heterosexuals. That means we have to ready ourselves for a knockdown drag out over an issue that isn't even properly the province of politicians. The matter is properly the province of those -- and they are many, philosophers, theologians, historians, etc. -- who think about the meaning, or meanings, of human existence.
Politicians -- essentially, vote seekers -- are unequipped to evaluate human existence. The regulation, not the meaning, of existence is their business -- for better or worse.
What's marriage for, after all? The propagation of voters? A man of politics might see it thus, but he would in fact be seeing nothing at all. That the sexes are made in particular, and complementary, ways is a fundamental truth about the fundamental human institution of marriage. It might just be -- leave the press conferences aside -- that this complementarity serves a higher purpose than mere companionship.
One doesn't have to share a bed with a companion in order to be companionable. A traditional male-female marriage, by contrast, affords the means both of conception and nurture. Not so the union of woman and woman, man and man. If it did, you might suppose humanity would have hit on this piece of wisdom long before Barack Obama, in the run-up to a major election, professed to discover it.
The fundamental truths about us human beings, passed down through the centuries, are best handled delicately, even reluctantly, lest we do them grave injury. To put them up for political bidding is the most disgraceful kind of idea. Philosophers and theologians don't always agree, even on the largest existential matters, but they outrank in moral authority those who peddle their notions for votes. For one thing, the vote peddlers don't discern, they accuse. They don't ponder; they pander. How can we know any such thing? By watching and then weeping.