Today our government has taken another step toward moral upheaval, or, if we think more optimistically, toward a crisis that will reshape it and its relationship toward the people it governs, potentially in a constructive manner. The government of the United States of America presents itself, in Lincoln’s immortal words, as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Its premise is that the legitimacy of government depends on the consent, and not merely the passive, but the active consent, participation, and support of the governed. Today’s Supreme Court ruling mandating same-sex marriage across the Union goes against the democratically enacted laws of a strong majority of the states, and against the constitutions of many of them. It also goes against the deeply held moral beliefs of half its population, and against the moral tradition that originally made democratic self-government possible in the West. The federal government no longer merely embodies a separation of church and state, but an opposition of church and state. A house divided against itself cannot stand.
All legitimate government requires a basis in the moral culture of its people. In this country, that moral culture, where it is strong enough to be a sustaining force for law and the common good, is overwhelmingly Christian or, more broadly, Abrahamic. The competing culture of Hollywood, of consumerism, and of unaccountable individualism that has led us to this point, where marriage is perceived as merely one more choice of two random individuals, is not capable of serving as the foundation of a functioning social order. Our moral culture today is so deeply divided that it is doubtful whether any government can maintain legitimacy in this environment. A government that overtly takes sides in this division certainly cannot.
The marginal legitimacy of our federal government has already been visible for years in legislative and budgetary gridlock, and in the falling morale of members of the military. These tendencies might well have precipitated a constitutional crisis on their own in a matter of years. Today, however, our march toward a crisis of governance has dramatically accelerated. A mandate this radical, based on so thin and insubstantial a foundation in culture and law, and on a historical perspective measured as well in months as in years, will strain this government to the breaking point. The question now is, what sort of order will replace it, and when? Will the adjustment be relatively mild, such as a renewal of federal pluralism, or will it be something more wrenching, and perhaps more decisive? How long will we live under a crumbling system, and how far will it crumble, before we put in place something truly viable?