A conservative New York Times columnist, Ross Douthat, writes that it's perhaps only a matter of time when same-sex marriage becomes legal in all 50 states, ruminating on what it might be like for those who believe in traditional marriage when that happens.
The Supreme Court is likely to be "forced to acknowledge the logic of its own jurisprudence" on same-sex marriage and redefine marriage to include gay couples in all states, writes Douthat, former senior editor at The Atlantic, in an op-ed piece for the Times.
This will finish the national debate but the country will remain divided, with a substantial minority of Americans, most of them religious, still committed to the older view of marriage, he says.
This will lead to one of two possibilities, he argues.
This division "will recede into the cultural background, with marriage joining the long list of topics on which Americans disagree without making a political issue out of it." And in this case, religious conservatives would essentially be left to promote their view of wedlock within their own institutions, as a kind of dissenting subculture, he says.
"And where conflicts arise – in a case where, say, a Mormon caterer or a Catholic photographer objected to working at a same-sex wedding – gay rights supporters would...let the dissenters opt out 'in the name of their freedom – and ours.'"
The other possibility is that "the oft-invoked analogy between opposition to gay marriage and support for segregation in the 1960s South" is pushed to its logical public-policy conclusion, Douthat suggests. "In this scenario, the unwilling photographer or caterer would be treated like the proprietor of a segregated lunch counter, and face fines or lose his business," he adds.
Meanwhile, "pressure would be brought to bear wherever the religious subculture brushed up against state power," leading to harassment of agencies and businesses that promote the older definition of marriage, the columnist adds.
This seems more likely after last week's "debate" in Arizona over a bill that would make a way for business owners to refuse service to gay people on religious grounds, he argues.
While such bills have been seen, in the past, "as a way for religious conservatives to negotiate surrender – to accept same-sex marriage's inevitability while carving out protections for dissent…now, apparently, the official line is that you bigots don't get to negotiate anymore," Douthat says.
"The conjugal, male-female view of marriage is too theologically rooted to disappear, but its remaining adherents can be marginalized, set against one other, and encouraged to conform," he adds.
The writer then blames Christians for it, saying they had "plenty of opportunities – thousands of years' worth – to treat gay people with real charity, and far too often chose intolerance." He says they must "remember our sins, and nobody should call it persecution."
In conclusion, Douthat wonders what settlement the "victors" will impose for the "defeated."