Lesbians and gays in the US are correct that their being denied marriage rights is a violation of their guarantee to equal protection under the law. However, legalizing gay marriage nationwide would eventually cause as many problems as it would solve. For a great while, marriage was only thought to be possible between a man and a woman. Recently, the consensus seems to be that our conception of who can be married shouldn’t be limited by such shoddy ideas as gender or sex. Point taken. But why if marriage shouldn’t be limited on the grounds of gender should it be limited on the grounds of number? Or age? If we are really going to define marriage as a right available to all loving adults in consensual relationships, we will eventually end up with such a diversity of “legal” marriages that marriage will become conceptually unrecognizable.
You hear people all the time bemoaning horrific violations of the separation of church and state. Usually, the people alerting us to these transgressions are worried about the church encroaching on state power. It is much rarer that you hear someone worried about state encroachment on church power. But it is only because the state usurped the power to legislate what was initially a religious and economic institution (rather than a legal one) that we even ended up in this mess.
The state should not recognize marriages at all. Thus, the solution to the problem before us is not to legalize gay marriage, which would only be to compound the problem by doubling down on its origin. The solution is to end legal recognition of all marriage, gay or straight. My wife (a lawyer) brings to my attention the vast amount of legal situations in which the outcome depends on marriage between parties. The solution is simple: civil unions for everyone. Everywhere “marriage” appears in law, simply replace it with “civil union.” Then, the legal recognition of gay partnerships isn’t an affront to any particular morality, and gays and lesbians can no longer claim that they are being denied legal rights to which they (correctly) believe they are entitled. Leave it up to the church to decide who will be married, and let the state issue a union to anybody who wants one.
This is a good compromise because everyone will hate it. Gays, lesbians, and their advocates won’t like it because it does not give them the public nod of moral approval that was always secretly at stake in the debate. The socially and religiously conservative right won’t like it because they will consider the invalidation of all marriages at the state level to be part of a larger attack on morality and religion — they would have to swallow what would be a major victory for a secular society. Nobody’s happy, everybody wins.