In making his announcement that he has given up on the traditional view of marriage, President Obama has thrown down the gauntlet to conservative leaders, who will either take a firm stand or give up on the issue.
It will separate the conservative men from the libertarian boys.
My bet is that over the next two years, many "conservative" public intellectuals will cave, and it will tell us a lot about their real philosophical convictions--or lack thereof. Just watch conservative spokespersons short selling on the marriage issue. A good example was Jonah Goldberg on Piers Morgan last night. And it will be interesting to see how Romney responds.
But any conservative who cannot stand up for marriage cannot be counted on to have the fortitude to stand up on any other conservative issue in the face of adversity and should in all honesty renounce the conservative label.
If traditional marriage is not central to conservative social thinking, then what is?
Marriage has always stood as a pillar of conservative social conviction, along with the sanctity of human life, and the belief that the concept of private property is essential to other freedoms. The so-called conservative leaders who renounce the first should never be trusted on the others. Given sufficient pressure, they will cave on those too.
That liberals want to redefine marriage is not in question; whether conservatives want to redefine conservatism is. But make no mistake, it would be a redefinition.
Nothing has changed on this issue except the polls, and although the polls are shifting, it is not a forgone conclusion that they will continue to shift or that the traditional view of traditional marriage is on its way out. Fully half of American (depending on the poll) still favor the traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.
And one of the ways to make sure that the polls do not change further is for conservative public intellectuals to hold their ground on the issue. There are other conservative positions with less support than this which are not being abandoned by so-called conservatives.
It is not unreasonable to conclude that the people who are changing their public positions on this issue are people who never really held them in the first place. If you have a philosophical grounding that undergirds your political positions, then the political positions will not change with every wind of politics. Conversely, if your views change with the political winds, it is an indication that you don't have a philosophical grounding for your political positions. And if that's the case, you should either get one (a philosophical grounding) or keep your opinions to yourself.
There are certain postures that can be called conservative. Standing for what you believe is one of them. Putting your wet finger in the air is not.