It now seems certain that before too many years elapse, the Supreme Court will be forced to acknowledge the logic of its own jurisprudence on same-sex marriage and redefine marriage to include gay couples in all 50 states.
Once this happens, the national debate essentially will be finished, but the country will remain divided, with a substantial minority of Americans, most of them religious, still committed to the older view of marriage.
So what then? One possibility is that this division will recede into the cultural background, with marriage joining the long list of topics on which Americans disagree without making a political issue out of it.
In this scenario, religious conservatives would essentially be left to promote their view of wedlock within their own institutions, as a kind of dissenting subculture emphasizing gender differences and procreation, while the wider culture declares that love and commitment are enough to make a marriage.
And where conflicts arise—in a case where, say, a Mormon caterer or a Catholic photographer objected to working at a same-sex wedding—gay rights supporters would heed the advice of gay marriage’s intellectual progenitor, Andrew Sullivan, and let the dissenters opt out “in the name of their freedom—and ours.”
But there’s another possibility, in which the oft-invoked analogy between opposition to gay marriage and support for segregation in the 1960s South is pushed to its logical public-policy conclusion.