The three issues that the Republicans have brought before the Senate in the last few days are "defining marriage as between a man and a woman", a bill to make the full repeal of the estate tax permanent, and a bill to ban flag burning.
The Republicans claim that they are trying to "defend marriage", by ensuring that they restrict it to a select group of people. Republicans claim that marriage is the foundation of society, so one would think that they would want to expand the role of marriage in society, not restrict it. If conservatives are troubled by "the homosexual lifestyle", then why don't they encourage homosexuals to get married? The "homosexual lifestyle" is essentially the single lifestyle, and as long as it remains impossible for homosexuals to get married they will of course remain single.
The issues go well beyond this however.
Conservatives complain about the "breakdown" of the institution of the family, but do they explain this "breakdown", do they give reasons for it? They blame this breakdown on "attacks by liberalism", homosexuality, feminism, and a lack of prayer in schools, etc.
The fact is, however, that none of things things are causes of the breakdown of the so-called "traditional" family. In fact all of these things are symptoms of the same root cause, which is industrialization and market economy capitalism.
That's the irony of all this, the real root cause of change in American society is the very institution that conservatives so fiercely defend: Capitalism.
Many of these changes are simply inevitable and are unavoidable with the changes that come with industrialization, but others have been exacerbated by the American style market economy.
Several historical facts must be put in perspective to understand the "family", however.
What is a "family" and why did families evolve?
The family has traditionally been the core economic unit of society. Throughout most of history the household as been the primary place of production, and all family members were involved, including children from as soon as they were old enough to participate. Prior to the 18th century in England and America, children began "working" around age 5 in the home, became significant contributors to the family income by age 7, and had generated major profits for the family by age 18. Women have always worked. Its just that until the industrial revolution all business was run out of the home, so there was no need to leave home to work, for either men or women. Yes, men typically took care of the business outside the home, but the home was effectively the "corporate headquarters". Women did plenty of work there and there was plenty to do, not just raise children, that was only one aspect.
There was a division of labor between the sexes, rooted primarily in utility. Women did split their time between raising the children and preparing the meals for the family, which meant preparing meals for the workers effectively, but they often did much more than this, they also often took care of book keeping, arranged orders, directed the labor of the children, and managed inventories. You must keep in mind that every home in America when America was founded was effectively its own little factory. 95% of all production in America was done in the home in 1800. Today less than 1% is done in the home.
This dramatic restructuring of the economy IS THE ROOT CAUSE of the changes in family structure, the role of the family in society, and the significance of the family.
A family is no longer itself an economic enterprise that is needed for survival. Today business people are pressured by the market to form cooperative groups known as corporations. 200+ years ago the pressure was to form a family. One person alone can't produce much, but by forming a family a person could automatically produce a group of 8 to 15 people who worked as a small "corporation" and extended families could reach into the hundreds.
Today, however, the economy has expanded well beyond this and the family is no longer a business unit like it was in the past.
Children are no longer economic assets as they were a hundred years ago or more. Today children are major economic burdens who never generate a profit for the family until they are out of the house, if then. The return on investment for children has consistently diminished over the past 200 years and today it may actually be the case that there is zero return on investment for most families. These economic changes have had major influences on family structures.
To add to all of this, marketing has usurped the power of the family to influence society. Who has the biggest influence on society today? Corporations. What is the motivation of their influence? Profit motive. When families had more influence over the economy, they also had more influence over society. Now the economy is rooted in the corporation, not the family, and thus the entire basis of our culture has shifted from the family to the corporation.
Families always had a completely different interest in their children than corporations do. The family has an inherent interest in trying to influence the behavior of their children in ways that both benefit the family and benefit the child. To the family the child was both a worker, i.e. provider, and also an offspring, someone that they loved and cared for and wanted to succeed. So, families had an interest in instilling "positive values" in their children, both for the sake of the child and the sake of the family itself.
Corporations, however, have no such direct interest. Their immediate interest is to view the child as a consumer. Thus, now that our society is dominated by the corporation, the values of the society are the values instilled by corporations. Families have been weakened, not as gays have come out of the closet, but as corporations have taken on the leading role in society. The interest of the corporation, and thus "the market economy", is to influence behavior in ways that encourage people to make poor decisions, not good decisions (to be fair the direct interest is not to influnce people to bad bad decisions, but the net result of marketing is to induce bad decisions). The primary relationship between corporation and child is that the child has money (or access to the money) the corporation wants, and the corporation seeks to influence the child to engage in behavior that will result in funneling money to the corporation.
It cannot be any other way in a capitalist economy, that's how it works.
Furthermore, now that the home is no longer the basis of the economy, it no longer makes sense for women to "stay there". There is nothing to do at home, most of the work takes place outside the home. Women have always contributed to the economy, and by leaving the home all they are doing is acting in accordance with the free market to pursue jobs where jobs are, i.e. outside the home.
The Republicans fail to acknowledge that it is indeed the free market that explains the breakup of the family, not "gays getting the right to marry".
The analysis that I have provided here demonstrates a massive failure on the part of out society and especially the Democratic Party and so-called "liberals", because instead of using these provable facts to take charge of the debate on social issues, the Democrats and liberals are conceding the debate to the conservatives and falling back on empty slogans and emotional appeals. Our news media fails to discuss the issues or do any significant reporting on these types of issues, and our talk shows and analysts are filled with either conservatives who misrepresent everything or post-modernists who can't explain their way out of a paper bag.
What is to be done? I don't know, because it seems that rationalism and empirical data are taboo in the public sphere in America today.
What is certain is that conservatives tend to be wrong about everything, but no one else is stepping up to provide the reason why they are wrong and to give voice to the correct anwsers.