I think both are right to some extent. I am very much in line with Dreher's desire to return the culture to a time of heightened spiritual belief, less materialism, and more simplicity. I just disagree that the marriage debate is a fundamental part of the equation. I think other things, like our consumer culture, our media and its glorification of cheap sex, extreme violence, and ridiculous wealth are all far more dangerous to our values than gay marriage.
Sullivan, on the other hand, is wrong to think we can never return to a more teleological society, driven by common purpose, a higher purpose. He's right in that social conservatives need to focus on what is truly important, and denying gays their basic rights is hardly that. With all the ills of this world, social conservatives should be too busy to care about gay marriage.
Essentially I think that the wrong questions are being asked. Modernity is full of moral qualms, but there are good things that have emerged as well. We need to find a way to determine what is truly good, universally good, that has been, perhaps, uncovered only now--like equal rights for women or gays--and what is bad, morally decrepit, or dangerous to a society.
William F Buckley wrote:
Conservatives pride themselves on resisting change, which is as it should be. But intelligent deference to tradition and stability can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism, as when conservatives simply decline to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their heads and reconsider is too great.In other words, it is best to be conservative. Tradition has great value. We should seek the wisdom of the past. But we should not excuse ourselves any creative effort, or any reconsideration of our values simply because everything modern can be written off. Sometimes tradition is wrong.
Thus my constant call for balance. If we do seek to do away with some of the follies of modernity, let us be wise in our choosing. Few would argue that the advancements in science should be rolled back. Some social advances are equally right and just.