There’s one key moment in his diavlog with Matt Yglesias where James does to the “Let’s get government out of the marriage business altogether” response to the same-sex marriage conundrum what Mark Texeira has lately been doing to American League pitching: he destroys it. I’m not going to transcribe his remarks, but here’s the relevant segment (about a minute long):
There actually was a time when I was tempted by the sort of position that James is taking on here, but his response shows quite effectively why no real defender of what’s come for better and worse to be called “traditional marriage” ever should be. Human beings are not, and never can be, creatures whose self- and other-understandings are constructed independently of societal context; we’re political animals, and like it or not this means that the laws and common understandings of the polities we inhabit have deeply pervasive effects on the ways we live our lives. And so when marriage becomes, as it would if its status were relegated to the fast-shrinking sphere of the “religious”, not an aspiration for all humankind but instead simply a special kind of inner state, a move in a private language game that only a god can divine, marriage then becomes nothing at all; it has not just been redefined, but defined away, made trivial in its faux-“sacredness” because of course we know that trivial is exactly what the supposedly sacred is. It is, I’d vouch, precisely for this sort of reason that the Church doesn’t refuse to acknowledge civil or otherwise extra-ecclesial weddings as constituting the real article: marriage is indeed a sacrament and deserves to be recognized as such, but the grace of the sacrament resides in what is fundamentally a human institution, one which is open even to those who don’t fully understand it for what it is. Marriage is indeed something sacred, but despite that it must still be allowed to be profaned, lest what remains for those in the “merely” public square is an even paler simulacrum of the real thing than the contractualized, divorce-ridden sets of interpersonal “arrangements” that we’ve presently got. There is nothing tradition-preserving at all about making marriage the province of the priests, and letting the public at large work out something altogether different.