The issue of gay marriage gives us a nice example of how politial questions get framed. I say this because of something Roger Scruton writes in the Times:
Some of us are troubled by the shallow reasoning that has dominated the political discussions surrounding this move, as though the threadbare idea of equality were enough to settle every question concerning the long-term destiny of mankind.
But there's another reasonable frame. We can think of permitting gay marriage not as a step change towards equality, but rather as a gradualist move towards slightly greater freedom.
Think of it this way. Over a very wide domain, the state already takes no interest in my choice of marriage partners. It is indifferent to their age (subject only to age of consent laws), ethnicity, psychological compatibility or appearance. Why, then, should it care about the contents of their trousers? Viewed in this frame, permitting gay marriage merely expands the range of characteristics of my marriage partners about which the state doesn't care. It's a small step to greater freedom. We could rename "equal marriage" as "free marriage."
Of course, framing the issue as one of freedom does not clinch the case for permitting gay marriage. Marriage is, as Scruton says, surrounded by social norms. But this runs into other questions: is there really a strong norm against gay marriage? Most people support it, consistent with Nick's view that the public have a "near total disregard for the teachings of the clerics and prelates", which suggests the norm is weak. But even if it were stronger, there'd still be the questions: what good does this norm serve? Why should the norm be embodied in law rather than in public opinion? And why should the law embody this norm rather than other norms against potentially bad marriages, such as to an unsuitable woman I'm temporarily infatuated with?
So, why is the issue so often framed as one of equality rather than freedom? I suspect conservatives have an instinctive aversion to gay marriage, and prefer to rationalize this as a big issue of equality rather a small issue of freedom, because they feel more comfortable opposing equality than opposing freedom. Conversely, campaigners for legalizing gay marriage - being mostly on the left - feel more comfortable with talk of equality.
But my point is merely that the issue can be viewed through more than one frame.
Another thing: there's another frame here - that of tradition versus rationality, but this doesn't lend itself to reasonable discussion, because what is at stake is the value of rationality itself.