Marriage as a human right and remembering Republicans are humans, too
August 26, 2010
By Andrew Blumenfeld, Summer 2010 New Media Intern
Paying almost any level of attention to the pseudo-reality that we call ‘politics’ in the United States, one might get the impression that identifying as ‘conservative’ is anathema to being ‘gay’ and vice-versa. Hypocritical behavior like that of former Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman who publicly came out as gay recently, might certainly be viewed as validation of this ‘reality’.
The Republican Party will have you believe that you can use the same line of political reasoning to scoff at government’s role in healthcare, as you can when vigorously maintaining a government interest in promoting an ‘ideal’ human relationship. They call this all conservatism. If you believe in by-your-bootstraps-capitalism, and marriage equality? Why, then you’re fiscally conservative, and socially liberal.
It’s wrong because political conservatism (also known historically- and ironically- as ‘classical liberalism’) is a political ideology that calls for skepticism in determining the appropriate presence of government; it is a compass- not a roadmap- for belief systems, which serves as a foundation upon which other opinions and beliefs are built. The Republican Party- not unlike the Democratic Party, or any other political party- claims to champion an ideology (in this case, conservatism), but has happily abandoned this guiding compass when there were bigger electoral victories to be claimed.
Keenly aware that many religious and rural voters identified using the term ‘conservative’ as a synonym for ‘traditional’, the Republican Party adopted these ‘traditional’ beliefs, and hoped we wouldn’t notice they were far from ‘conservative’. If you believe government ought to be identifying certain relationships of love and commitment and declaring them more valuable than other relationships of love and commitment, then you are not socially conservative—you are socially Republican.
I am a conservative, and I am gay; these two things make perfect sense to me. And because I believe the Republican Party- on the whole- does a better job of representing my preferred political ideology than realistic electoral alternatives, I am registered as a Republican. My party, my candidates, and my public servants fail me with a good deal of frequency—but this is by no means an exclusively Republican problem.
Trained, as we are, to assume political issues exist within a zero-sum reality where one side can’t be right without the other side being wrong, we might be tempted to wonder: given my definition of conservative, would a ‘liberal’ be against marriage equality? No. Because while liberal Democrats might be more willing to allow for individual sacrifices in the name of a collective, they, too, understand that individual liberties- especially ones that do no harm to others- must be defended and preserved. Believe it or not, equality is an American ideal—in theory, anyways.
At this point its worth taking a moment to comment further on an assertion I’ve made or implied here more than once now: that marriage equality is about individual liberties uninhibited by government intervention, that can exist at no one’s expense. Supporters and opponents of the freedom to marry alike share in their belief- supported by empirical data- that the social approbation and force behind ‘marriage’ bestows certain goods upon individuals and families that are independent of the legal rights and privileges that come with the marriage license; married individuals, for the example of all examples, live longer than single individuals, for instance. In the Proposition 8 trial, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, experts for both sides indicated that gay couples would reap these ‘social-rewards’ as do non-gay couples.
The fear, they assert, is that this ‘redefinition’ of marriage will mean that the social charge that is responsible for those social-rewards, will be lost in the long term; that same-sex couples are not just different than opposite-sex ones, there is also something intrinsically detractive about them that will erode the positive stigma attached to marriage as it exists now. Unfortunately for those making this argument, it assumes the general public is as intolerant and unthinking as they are. Marriage might be defined by two things, but to most Americans those things are love and commitment—not one man and one woman; gay Americans’ lack of access to the institution of marriage perpetuates the same stigma that is used to justify their lack of access in the first place. This circular nonsense is on trial, and it is losing.
So if we are to believe that marriage equality is about individual rights that require no sacrifices on the part of anyone else (a claim fought by many who are nowhere to be found in a court of law that subjects testimony to an oath, but whom parade their opposition in the court of public opinion where no such oath exists), and that both liberal and conservative ideologies stand for the preservation of such rights, how can discrimination and inequality still be the law in so many places?
Unfortunately, party politics have cashed in discomfort and closed minds for electoral victories—and I believe much of the gay rights movement has been all too quick to accommodate that exchange. A minority- especially one as relatively small as the LGBT community- simply cannot afford to align itself firmly with an individual party. By staking out a home in the Democratic Party and demonizing Republicans as a whole, marriage equality and other LGBT issues are made untenable to Republican candidates and officials, while Democrats continue with their lukewarm support (at best) all the while comforted by the notion that their LGBT ‘base’ isn’t going anywhere. If nothing else, it’s just not good political strategy. It’s the strategy that brought us a liberal President with a stance on marriage indistinguishable from Carrie Prejean’s, even while Glenn Beck starts to sound a little more like Evan Wolfson. Arguing over whether the Republican Party’s unfriendly platform alienated the LGBT community, or the LGBT community’s alienation made permissible the unfriendly platform is a losing chicken-and-egg game for us; in the end the Party still exists, and nationwide marriage equality still doesn’t.
As true conservatives continue to make the case for marriage equality to fellow conservatives, it’s important that the LGBT community fights their battles like the civil rights struggles that they are. If we mean it when we say that civil rights are human rights- and we do, and they are- we have to acknowledge that human rights are not the exclusive jurisdiction of any one party, that neither party has done enough to ensure equality is the law throughout the country, and that support from the LGBT community cannot be taken for granted and is available to any individual or party that joins us in this fight.