Conservative Politics. Gay Politics.

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to attend a forum entitled “Is There a Place for Gay People in Conservatism and Conservative Politics?” offered by the Cato Institute.  I hope that this event will spawn several posts, but let me first tackle the issue of gay people and conservatism.  Briefly going through the forum itself, the panel consisted of Nick Herbert (a member of the Conservative Party and the UK parliament) Andrew Sullivan (a well known author and blogger), and Maggie Gallagher (President of the National Organization for Marriage).  Each of the three answered the above question a bit differently.  Mr. Herbert, as a successful member of the Conservative Party, supported the fusion of gay and conservative politics and outlined ways in which the two are successfully merging in Great Britain.  By contrast, Mr. Sullivan thought that the current trends within the Republican Party create a very hostile environment for gays and thus the situation in the United States is not favorable for a union.  From what I could gather from Mrs. Gallagher, she seemed to approve of gays in the conservative movement so long as they did not push for gay marriage.  As a result of her stance, throughout the forum, both Mr. Sullivan and Mrs. Gallagher had several rather tense moments as each seemed to irritate the other.  Overall, I would say the forum was quite interesting.  In retrospect, I wish that I were a bit more lucid during the proceedings and discussion afterward.  One of the attendees asked me what my thoughts were on gay marriage and rather than giving a clear and concise answer, I tried to sidestep the issue as a result of my foggy head.  He understood my meaning, but for an involved activist like myself, it was embarrassing.  Therefore, let me share my thoughts on whether there is a place for gay people in conservatism.

When it comes to fiscal conservatism, there is no reason why a gay person and a non-gay person could not hold very similar positions.  Lower taxes, a balanced budget, reduced government spending, these are issues where attitudes toward homosexuality hold little bearing.  Presumably being gay or not being gay should not hold any sway on fiscal matters.  The real crux of the matter comes in social conservatism.  For starters, the simple fact of the matter is that many social conservatives view homosexual activity as immoral, and, as a result, many do not wish to associate with people who engage in such behavior.  They do not look for common ground.  Although not all social conservatives shun the gay community, there certainly is a tension that exists for many.  But certainly gay people can hold socially conservative views.  For example, gay and non-gays alike can be against abortion or euthanasia.  Prayer in schools and open religious displays might be a little cloudy.  Although I didn’t really think about it much beforehand, as a result of this forum, I believe that the real driving wedge is the issue of marriage.

Marriage from the gay perspective (as I understand it)

I would assume that the majority of gays view marriage as a civil issue.  If other folks in society are allowed to marry, why can’t they?  To deny them this ability relegates them to second-class citizens where they do not enjoy all of the rights and privileges of straight men and women.  It is a matter of freedom, tolerance, and acceptance.

Marriage from the social conservative perspective (as I understand it)

To many social conservatives, marriage is not merely a civil activity; it is the legal bonding of two people, a religious action.  God has ordained it since the beginning of time.  It existed before the birth of our nation and will continue long after we are a faint memory.  Therefore, governments have no right to interfere with an institution created by a higher power; they can merely serve as a guardian.  Marriage is, and can only be, between one man and one woman.  The issue is a matter of honoring God and his laws.

And there in lies the problem.  How can one side reconcile with the other over the marriage question?  Unfortunately, I don’t believe that they can.  This issue bears a striking similarity to the abortion issue.  Pro-choicers see the subject as promoting a woman’s control over her body and not bringing an unwanted child into the world.  Pro-lifers see the matter as the murder of an innocent life.  There is not and cannot be any reconciliation between the two groups as long as they both maintain their viewpoints.

So is there a place for gay people in conservative politics?  I believe that there is considerable shared ground between conservatives and many in the gay community and that both could profit from mutual cooperation.  For example, in the critical fight against abortion, one would be foolhardy to disregard any potential allies.  That having been said, many social conservatives will harbor the constant fear that cooperation will serve to legitimize homosexual activity and offend their religious beliefs.  In addition, the division over the marriage issue will make any arrangement unstable at best.  Will it work?  Will social conservatives and gay folks want to make it work?  I don’t know.  So to answer the question, without the aid of a magic 8 ball, all I can say is definitely maybe.  Sorry.

For another far more detailed take on this forum, I encourage you to read Rick Sincere’s article.

4 Replies to “Conservative Politics. Gay Politics.”

  1. Interesting post.

    It struck me that the Ryan Sorba speech at CPAC could be seen as the turning point in the GOP’s identity.

    I know several pro-life Democrats, but I don’t think they expect the Dems they vote for to roll back Roe v Wade.

    Bottom line: The two-party duopoly does not leave enough options for people that don’t fit into some very narrow categories.

  2. Good reflections on the Cato event. This post makes me think of two questions I’d like to hear others answer:

    1. Other than marriage, is there any other religious ceremony that has established legal ramifications – does a bar mitzvah make a boy into a legal adult, does baptism (infant or adult) confer a legal status, etc.?

    2. Should any religious function have ties to a legal status? Is tradition a strong enough reason to grant or deny a person a legal status based on religious belief?

    To answer my own questions, I can’t think of a religious ceremony other than marriage that has ties to legal status. I’ve also encountered many people who look at marriage primarily as a legal status or a ‘seal the deal’ event rather than as a God-ordained, worshipful occasion. Dividing the spiritual and legal aspects of marriage may be helpful for people determining the importance of both aspects.

  3. Sorry Dettmer, but I must disagree with you a bit. I don’t think that marriage is strictly a religious ceremony. It is an economic one as well. The state views it the same way (think VA’s “marriage discount” on your taxes). It grants you certain rights to your collective property. It grants you certain medical rights. These rights cannot be denied simply because you happen to be gay. Any person who says that they believe in the Constitution should also be a proponent of gay marriage. Yes, there are people who view the act as immoral, but morality (to an extent) is not a legal issue.
    As for your (Dettmer) fist question, I think that ordination does grant you some rights, though I couldn’t tell you exactly what they would be.

    1. Drew, I agree with you. My argument was not that marriage should be only religious or only a legal status but that the combination of the two factors confuses things. The legal or economic status of people who want to be married should be determined regardless of religious views – Christian, Buddhist, etc. I also think that making the religious component of marriage independent of the legal/economic component would help to make marriage services more meaningful for all involved. This may help clergy to not be viewed by marrying couples as someone who ‘can’ legally marry them but as someone whom they ‘want’ to administer a distinctively religious service. Clergy might feel more free to emphasize God’s role in the marriage covenant if the purpose of the service is solely religious.

      As far as I’m familiar, ordination or licensing doesn’t grant rights so much as responsibilities, such as those responsibilities with conducting a marriage ceremony (presiding over the ceremony, filling out forms, etc.). The tax requirements for clergy are rather complex. For instance, a minister who receives a honorarium for a wedding reports that money under self-employment taxes, while their salary makes them an employee of a church or denomination.

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