Six states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage. Thirty-two states prohibit it -- some by statute and others by state constitutions. The nation is doing what both Obama and Romney say they prefer, dealing with the question state by state.
Romney's description of the issue as "tender and sensitive" was apt. But it should be possible for mature adults to discuss even sensitive subjects without descending into name-calling.
My personal resistance to same-sex marriage arises not from any dislike of gays and lesbians but from the belief that traditional marriage is too important to be toyed with. When gays say, "marriage isn't doing well among heterosexuals," they have a point. Heterosexuals are making a mess of marriage. But that's all the more reason to be cautious about adding another blow.
Traditional marriage is recognized and to some degree privileged by society because it performs the most essential task of any civilization -- providing the optimal environment for raising children. Men and women bring different and complementary qualities to parenthood. The genetic tie, which both heterosexual parents have to their children, while not essential (I speak as an adoptive mother), is helpful in maintaining loyalty and support for the long haul. Having parents of opposite sexes gives children male and female role models. And the sexes differ in a thousand little ways that, when blended, tend to redound to kids' welfare. Just to name a few: mothers are more protective, fathers more challenging; mothers are more comforting, fathers more stimulating; mothers are more related, fathers more disciplinary.
Permitting people of the same sex to marry changes the nature of the institution. Rather than the optimal vehicle for raising children, it becomes just the social ratification of the relationship between two adults -- a seal of approval. Having your love validated by the larger society may seem important if you are gay. But marriage, rightly understood, is not really about love. It includes love. But it's really about stability and raising children.
That's what Obama said he believed, until yesterday. It wasn't bigotry then, and it isn't now.