This is highly significant, I think:

Conservative firebrand Glenn Beck has joined a growing chorus of Republican commentators in defending gay marriage, laying out a strong case for ending government opposition to letting same-sex couples wed. 

“Let me take the pro-gay marriage people and the religious people — I believe that there is a connecting dot there that nobody is looking at, and that’s the Constitution,” Beck said during a recent segment of his online talk show. ”The question is not whether gay people should be married or not. The question is why is the government involved in our marriage?”

From the Beck website report on his taped discussion with Penn Jillette:

Glenn agreed with Penn, noting that gay marriage does not “pick my pocket nor break my leg” and he doesn’t feel like the government needed to be involved. He said that as long as the government doesn’t come into his church and say he or his church (or any church) need to change their belief system and their practices, he doesn’t care. But right now, people of faith who may not want gay marriage in their church are being shut out of the conversation by activists and progressives.

“The agenda is to shut down my freedom of speech and my belief in – what you don’t believe in but I do deeply – The Bible. So I’m going to live my life the way I believe. That’s freedom of conscience,” Glenn said.

This is actually wrong, and misdirecting. Has no one explained to Beck that no one with more than a passing awareness of the issue believes that churches are going to be compelled to change their beliefs on homosexuality and marriage? His idea that churches (and Orthodox synagogues, and mosques) are going to be untouched by SSM is fantasy. Marriage law affects a myriad of other laws, and there is an unavoidable encroachment on religious liberty. This will be sorted out in the courts, but the real and serious and consequential conflicts do not disappear because one declares them non-existent.

This idea that the government should not be involved in marriage is wholly unrealistic; our entire society, including much of our legal framework, is built around the concept of marriage. For example, if the government did not recognize marriage (in whatever form), the constitutional protection spouses have against being compelled to testify in court against their spouses would be meaningless.

Whatever the flaws in Beck’s argument and vision, I think it’s highly significant because it shows that this is the route through which the populist right will come to embrace same-sex marriage. If conservatives are going to accept SSM, they ought to at least understand the full meaning, and the implications, of what they are accepting. Beck either does not see it, or will not see it. Don’t know which. But he is useful to the pro-SSM cause.