I recently wrote about the evolution of President Obama's position on same-sex marriage. Not surprisingly, this drew some critical comment. In particular, there were challenges to my suggestion that enshrining religious grounds for making civil law was dangerous for religious institutions. I was asked to clarify the evolution of my own thought on this issue.
Marriage has a vital public role in the good order of society. I believe that role is primarily about raising children in as good an environment as possible. Marriage is also the main institution in which real people (not corporations) save assets and transmit them to their posterity.
As a social institution, a child's two natural parents, married to one another, is the first best option. Other options - single parents, adoption, same-sex couples, widows, orphanages - can produce good-enough results, and are certainly better than not raising children at all.
To say that one social institution is better than another is not to say that each individual example of the former is better than each individual example of the latter. And it certainly does not mean that one is all good and all alternatives are bad.
The state has always supported marriage for the parents of children because every other institution for raising children is more costly, less efficient, and less effective for producing citizens.
The Christian church, meanwhile, has not always supported marriage of any kind, but only came to support marriage grudgingly.
The sanctification of marriage in civil religion is more recent still. The recent constitutional amendment condemning all extramarital sexual relations is an example of this kind of civil religion.
For the state to include same-sex couples as married, especially for purposes of raising children, is a decision like that of accepting cohabiting couples or adoptive parents as good-enough. This decision, though, is only with reference to what the state needs from a child-rearing institution.
I think the Bible clearly condemns homosexual practice as a sin. But it condemns divorce even more strongly and clearly. Both church and state have made their peace with divorce as a good-enough state, even without embracing it wholly. I believe the church can do the same with homosexual practice.
The state can normalize homosexual practice because it does not have a very good reason not to. That is a good rule of thumb for any state in a free society. And the state may prudently judge that children would be raised and assets would be saved and transmitted well enough by same-sex couples to normalize same-sex marriages.
That prudential judgment is the one the President Obama has made. I concur.