At first, it looked like the CPAC panel on "Marriage in the States" wouldn't provide anything more interesting than the tragicomic spectacle of "ex-gay" Exodus International President Alan Chambers, still pinging loudly on my gaydar, woodenly professing how absolutely ecstatic he now is in his wholesome hetero marriage. But by the time Q&A rolled around, an intriguing rift among the defenders of marriage as a hetero-only club surfaced.
Panelist Alex Mooney, a state senator in Maryland, made clear that his beef was not just with gay marriage, but with the extension of any of the rights traditionally associated with marriage to gay couples, from hospital visitation to tax benefits to shared health coverage. As far as he's concerned—and maybe he's right—these steps make it hard to resist the push toward the equal recognition of gay couples. Of course, resisting even these steps is probably more cruel than the modal conservative is willing to sign on for.
And, in fact, some of the most hardcore social conservatives are now supporting a kind of preemptive extension of some of those very benefits in order to forestall more marriage-like arrangements such as civil unions. Focus on the Family has endorsed a Colorado bill that would create "reciprocal beneficiary agreements," for which "relatives, friends, roommates and same-sex couples would all be eligible. "
The hardliners in the audience here seemed to feel betrayed by Focus' stance, but to the extent that it's possible to delay the (probably inevitable) advent of gay marriage, their strategy is probably the sounder one. Because plenty of people have a knee-jerk problem with any kind of tinkering with full-blown "marriage," with all its broader cultural associations, and maybe even to something like civil unions, which are seen as marriage substitutes. For the vast majority of those people, though, a hard line against some kind of arrangement that allows people to visit their longstanding partners in the hospital isn't going to fly.