At the pre-Thanksgiving week rally in Boston, gay-marriage proponents booed as the Pledge of Allegiance was said and "God Bless America" was sung. It was an appropriate scene. As Maggie Gallagher recently put it on her marriagedebate.com blog: "They want their rights, do they care about yours?" In Massachusetts, the issue of gay marriage has not only been about the marriage issue itself, but also about issues like religious liberties: Can a Catholic group refuse to place children with a gay couple?
And whether he finds himself about to move into the White House two years from now, Romney's already contributed a great deal to the debate over marriage in America with the tone of his principled rhetoric. At a recent evangelical rally, the Mormon took back some of the left's monopoly on "the children." He said, "The price of same-sex marriage is paid by children. Our fight for marriage, then, should focus on the needs of children, not the rights of adults. In fact, as Americans, I believe that we should show an outpouring of respect and tolerance for all people, regardless of their differences or their different choices. We must vigorously reject discrimination and bigotry. We are all God's children. He abhors none of us."
Gay marriage isn't an issue most like to have to talk about. Any sense that people are being deprived rights rightfully makes many squeamish. But marriage is fundamentally what it is -- between a man and a woman. As Romney put it in a letter to U.S. senators this summer as they were taking up a federal marriage amendment: "Americans are tolerant, generous, and kind people. We all oppose bigotry and disparagement, and we all wish to avoid hurtful disregard of the feelings of others. But the debate over same-sex marriage is not a debate over tolerance. It is a debate about the purpose of the institution of marriage."
If conservatives can articulate that -- something kinder and gentler than the caricature of gay-marriage opponents -- we may just get somewhere. It's a pretty decent proposal for Republicans.