I wonder if the delay in the Supreme Judicial Court decision on gay marriage is a sign that the court will not, in the end, decide to go for it but rather opt for civil unions or some other muddled outcome. It seems like the smart move from a tactical standpoint. Public opposition has been rising, social conservatives are beginning to mobilize, and a gay-marriage decision may prompt the president to endorse the Federal Marriage Amendment. (I think he almost certainly would endorse it.) The amendment might fail, as most proposed amendments do, but why take the risk?
If the court imposes civil unions, on the other hand, Bush is much less likely to endorse an amendment. (I doubt he would under that circumstance.) Support for civil unions is well on its way to becoming the “moderate” position among opinion elites. Purist supporters of full-fledged gay marriage would be disappointed, but a civil union decision will nonetheless be a step forward for them, culturally and politically. In two or three years, it might very well be safe to go ahead with gay marriage.
So I guess the question is whether the judges would rather go down in history for bringing the first-ever gay marriages to the U.S. or would rather promote the cause of gay rights long-term. (Abiding by the law as written doesn’t appear to be an option.)