Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world - Yeats
This pretty well sums up the conservative's gloom, at least at the moment. Progressive victories have eroded away much that we esteem. Indeed, at the moment, the Republicans, the closest thing conservatives have by way of representatives, seem to have given up trying to do much besides trying to maintain current tax rates and the military budget. On other issues, they're almost totally useless.
Let's take the issue of gay marriage, both as an illustration of Republican ineffectiveness and anarchy, as per Yeats. The two principle points about gay marriage at this point are that: 1) it is inevitable; and 2) the victory is largely symbolic, given the dearth of homosexuals lining up to tie the knot.
On the first point, gay marriage was made inevitable when marriage was redefined to be exclusively about the happiness of the husband or wife. Happiness here is subjective; we are certainly not talking eudaimonia. So a man may divorce his wife if he can upgrade her with a prettier model; or, what is commoner, a woman can divorce her husband because she is not satisfied--and prefers to eat, pray, love, mostly eat, her way into happiness.
According to this new way of thinking, marriage was solely a contract between two people. This was a mistake, first, because of the disastrous effect divorce can have on children, but also because, even if there aren't any children, the marriage took place in the context of a community. The reason weddings are such grand affairs isn't just so that the bride can have her day. The witnesses consent to the marriage and, implicitly at least, promise to help the married couple keep their promises to one another.
Once this ship had sailed, it's easy to see why gays insisted that they, too, ought to be allowed to marry. It's somewhat amusing to see gays clamouring for the right to be married just as heterosexuals are abandoning the institution en masse. One wonders how long it will be until most marriages are either performed quietly in a small church--or flamboyantly on Bravo.
Anyway, the conservatives lost the case for heterosexual marriage once it became a contractual affair. If we were really concerned for children, divorce, or at least remarriage, ought to have been banned, if not by our State, at least by our churches. This would have been no more effective in the long run, but that is the battlefield on which we should have fought.
As to the second point, there simply aren't enough gays who wish to marry for this to matter all that much. Certainly it matters to homosexuals and their friends and family, but from a societal perspective, the forty percent illegitimacy rate far outweighs a few marrying gays.
I note too, the absence of criticism towards single mothers on behalf of Republicans. Yes, I know, it's very unkind to shame people for anything--except for smoking, perhaps--but raising a child alone is, in most instances, a socially irresponsible thing to do. This is not to say that the children should be aborted, but that adoption should be considered. More importantly, women should be encouraged to be more discerning towards the men they... let's go with date.
As an aside, one might point out that with the illegitimacy rate so high, almost no one can criticize single mothers without running afoul of some acquaintance or family member. This is depressingly true. Once anti-social behaviour becomes so endemic, it become virtually impossible for society to curtail it.
This is all very sexist of me, of course, but since women bear the burden of pregnancy, they will always be the sexual gatekeepers of our species. One can blame men all one likes, but, as the saying goes, why buy a cow if the milk is free? If we cannot depend on women's discretion, we're certainly not going to be able to depend on that of the man. That would be like giving up on building a democracy in Iraq so as to attempt one in Afghanistan.
There are a number of reasons this function hasn't been maintained by women, but that's a separate post entirely.
Instructive here is how strange and uncharitable these arguments sound, partially because of the infrequency with which we hear them, but also because they take for granted that the actions of men and women have ramifications outside of the scope of their temporary union, and that we therefore should judge accordingly.
Yet it is this, and not bigotry, which is the real reason for the disagreement over gay marriage. It is also the conversation we should have been having. It is never too late to start.