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.