I've been waiting for other social conservatives to respond to the recent Gallup Poll which reports that Americans now favor “gay” marriage by a percentage of 53% to 45%.

This year's nine-percentage-point increase in support for same-sex marriage is the largest year-to-year shift yet measured over this time period. Two-thirds of Americans were opposed to legalized same-sex marriage in 1996, with 27% in favor. By 2004, support had risen to 42% and, despite some fluctuations from year to year, stayed at roughly that level through last year.

I haven't seen much yet along those lines, so I'll say something myself. I don't expect to convince anyone of anything (I rarely do), and it goes without saying I'll be compared to a Nazi, but I'll do it anyway, because it's been on my mind.

First of all, I'm not entirely convinced by the figures. My experience is that people with liberal views are generally oversampled in such polls.

But that doesn't alter the fact that, beyond question, acceptance of homosexuality has been growing rapidly among Americans. Among young people, it's barely an issue anymore.

Barring some major critical event, like a movement of the Holy Spirit or a re-make of Rocky Horror Picture Show, it would appear that gender-neutral marriage is in our future. How are we to think about that?

For me, the answer is clear. I shall despair of my country. I do not consider this a minor issue, a cosmetic matter, a sideshow. In my view, even if conservatives sweep all the elections and take all the seats of power for the next century, it will mean nothing if we lose the marriage battle.

It's a matter of fundamental issues.

What is political conservatism about, when you pare it down to essentials? It's not about the Christian religion. It's not about low taxes, except as a byproduct. It's not about “live and let live.”

It's about restraining the growth of government. Keeping free people free to live their lives without having to ask anybody's permission to do most of the things they do.

How do you keep government small?

By relying, I think, as Edmund Burke famously said, on “the little battalions” of society. The free, non-centralized associations by which people bind themselves together through promises of obligation and mutual support.

The most basic, and most important, little battalion is the marriage of a man and a woman.

It is often forgotten, at the present stage of the debate, that marriage is not something that a lot of people (men especially) naturally want. It's in a man's nature to range free, to “spread his seed” whenever he gets the opportunity, and to flee to distant parts when his actions threaten to produce a baby for which he might be expected to bear responsibility.

In order to induce men to marry, and to remain married, society has developed the institution of marriage. Men are induced to enter into marriages through incentives such as social status and tax benefits. They are taught (or used to be) that it is a shameful thing for a man to leave a string of fatherless children behind, and an honorable thing to raise a family with one woman. There are also (or used to be) penalties for men who break their marriage covenants.

All this is pretty much gone now. Illegitimacy no longer bears any stigma. Divorce is easy and “no fault.” A very good argument could be made (though that isn't my purpose here) that the entire marriage battle was lost long ago. “Gay” marriage is just the coup de grace, the final, killing blow.

“But why” asks the honest modern questioner “should gay marriage make any difference? Isn't gay marriage also a contract voluntarily entered into by free persons? Does it make us less free if we spread the freedom around?”

This question misses the point. Marriage isn't primarily about rights. It's about obligations. It's about who will take care of the children, and who will take care of elderly parents.

The special status marriage used to enjoy was meant to insure that, as much as possible, there would be stable environments where children could be raised. Once those children were adults, they were expected to care for their parents in their declining years.

Now that marriage has become, not a matter of obligations, but the “right” of two (or more, I assume) individuals to demand, on penalty of law, that everyone “respect” their feelings, these obligations to the previous and future generations no longer form a central purpose for the institution. Experimental forms of marriage mean experimental arrangements for child-rearing (if children are reared at all, which is becoming increasingly rare—see Europe) and the support of the elderly.

And experiments mean failures. Experimentation, after all, is a system of purposely making one mistake after another, in order to learn through trial and error what works.

In the case of the many family failures we may expect, who will then care for the children and the elderly?

Obviously, the government.

Thus, ever-growing government becomes inevitable, regardless of how many Republicans you elect.

In short, the state has won. I see no escape from ever-greater government control, outside of some kind of disaster, or wholesale conversion to Islam.

It's not a future I enjoy contemplating.