The Republicans' problem is young voters. Huge majorities of them favor same-sex marriage, and for most of them it's simply a no-brainer. They must have been turned off if they were watching the Republican presidential candidates vie with each other in opposing it in the Fox News-Washington Examiner debate in Iowa.
The constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that they supported is never going to get a two-thirds vote in Congress or be ratified by three-quarters of state legislatures. Unless the Supreme Court rules there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, this is an issue that is going to be decided by the states.
Opponents of same-sex marriage argue that it would weaken the institution of the family. Certainly there are problems there: Rising percentages of children are raised by one parent or none, and nearly 50 percent of teenage children in non-college households did not live with both parents. Yet outcomes for children raised in two-parent families are far better than for those who are not.
But as one who favors same-sex marriage for reasons set out in Jonathan Rauch's 2004 book "Gay Marriage," I think the institution of the family is less threatened by a few people who want to get married than by the very many more people who get divorced or who have children without getting married at all.
In any case, we now have an experiment going on. Some 11 percent of Americans live in the six states and the District of Columbia that allow same-sex marriage. That would rise to 23 percent if California voters, who narrowly rejected it, switch. Other states may follow. On the other hand, states where blacks and white evangelical Protestants form a majority are unlikely to accept it any time soon.
We will be able to see how things work out and make judgments, without much need for guidance from our presidents or presidential candidates.