As best I can discern it, this is Andrew Sullivan’s position on gay marriage: 1) I am willing to argue as if it matters whether gay marriage undermines marriage or not. But if it is shown that gay marriage really does harm marriage, that is irrelevant. Gay marriage is a civil right, and must be granted regardless of its effect on the institution. 2) I am willing to argue as if I expect and prefer to see gay marriage adopted slowly and legislatively on a state by state basis. But if gay marriage is imposed by the courts in Massachusetts, and if that kicks off a process of nationalization, that is irrelevant. Gay marriage is a civil right, and must be granted, even if it is imposed on the nation by a few liberal judges. 3) I am willing to argue as if I believe in the democratic process and respect for law. But if gay marriage is forced on the nation through a campaign of civil disobedience, that is irrelevant. Gay marriage is a civil right, and must be granted, even if it is undertaken in clear violation of the law, and in clear violation of the will of the people of California as expressed in a legally binding democratic referendum.
There are two problems with this position. First, the analogy between marriage and the civil rights struggle is flawed. Skin color has no intrinsic effect on marriage, democracy, or any basic social or political institution. But sex and sexuality do have an intrinsic bearing on the operations of the institution of marriage. Second, there is something fundamentally misleading about a position that appears to take whole categories of objection seriously, but in fact does not. Certainly, such a position-and such a way of arguing-have nothing to do with conservatism. Conservatism takes questions of institutional stability and survival seriously. Conservatism takes the democratic process seriously. Conservatism is respectful of the law. Granted, if gay marriage really was fully analogous to the civil rights struggle of the sixties, a more radical position would be justified. But the analogy is flawed, and the veneer of conservatism false.