Some point to the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in New York and Rhode Island's passage of civil unions last week as signs that America's "march to official recognition of gay marriage by lawmakers and the courts is inevitable," according to Dennis Byrne's article, "Gay marriage across the land: Not so darn fast" in the Chicago Tribune.

Yet, the gay-marriage cause still faces considerable public opposition, according to Bryne. "So far, the question has been put directly to American voters 31 times, and 31 times voters have said marriage is a one-man and one-woman deal," said Byrne, citing stats from the chairwoman of the National Organization for Marriage, Maggie Gallagher.

Byrne further cited a recent Alliance Defense Fund poll suggesting that "62 percent of Americans agreed — and 53 percent strongly agreed — with the statement, 'I believe marriage should be defined only as a union between one man and one woman.'"

But now that the dust has settled, and gays can legally marry in the state of New York, opinion columnist Ross Douthat wrote that the future of gay marriage in New York is in the hands of gays and gays alone.

"In New York, as in five states before it, gay marriage's future is in the hands of gay couples themselves," wrote Douthat in a piece titled, "More Perfect Unions" in The New York Times. "Over the decades ahead, their choices will gradually transform gay marriage from an idea into a culture: they'll determine the social expectations associated with gay wedlock, the gay marriage and divorce rates ... They'll also help determine gay marriage's impact on the broader culture of matrimony in America."

Duthat highlights three possible effects that gay marriage could have on the "broader culture of matrimony in America." He first proffers an idea from Jonathan Rauch's book, "Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America," which argues that gay marriage will help breed marital conservatism, helping confirm "marriage's status as the gold standard for committed relationships."

Opposite Rauch's theory are marital-liberationists, who according to Douthat, "hope that gay marriage will help knock marriage off its cultural pedestal altogether." These liberationists in the gay-marriage movement are what social conservatives worry about the most — they hope, according to Duthat, to gradually decline the importance of the marital institution in American society.

"Still, there's a third vision that's worth pondering — neither conservative nor liberationist, but a little bit of both," Douthat continued. "This vision embraces the institution of marriage ... But it also hints that the example of same-sex unions might partially transform marriage from within, creating greater institutional flexibility — particularly sexual flexibility — for straight and gay spouses alike."

It is the idea that matrimony should not inherently include complete sexual fidelity. This idea is espoused by noted author, and married homosexual, Dan Savage, recently profiled by the New York Times. According to Douthat's article, Savage suggests in his memoir "The Commitment" that matrimony is best when it loosens its moral demands in a controlled way. For example Savage wrote positively about the way in which he and his partner managed their extra-marital sex in a way which he claimed made for a more stable home for raising their child while accomodating their desires for "outside sexual contact."

Douthat countered that idea by writing, "Institutions tend to be strongest when they make significant moral demands, and weaker when they pre-emptively accommodate themselves to human nature. Critics of gay marriage see this as one of the great dangers in severing the link between marriage and the two realities — gender difference and procreation — that it originally evolved to address. A successful marital culture depends not only on a general ideal of love and commitment, but on specific promises, exclusions and taboos. And the less specific and more inclusive an institution becomes, the more likely people are to approach it casually, if they enter it at all."

The passage of the recent New York gay marriage bill comes as gay-rights proponents seem to be making significant gains, according to Alex Altman's Time article. "The New York state legislature's passage of the Marriage Equality Act was the third landmark victory in six months for the gay-rights movement, following the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in December and the Obama Administration's decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). And while the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and DOMA breakthroughs were federal successes, the Empire State's legalization of gay marriage was perhaps the most significant in the trifecta of achievements."

While gay-marriage proponents are celebrating recent victories, Altman warns that, "It will be an increasingly difficult battle" and said just as activists prepare to fight for gay-marriage in subsequent states in the union, "Gay-marriage opponents have also used New York as a rallying cry, vowing to marshal support in defense of traditional marriage."

EMAIL: hboyd@desnews.com