Taking the (Political) Party Out of Marriage

This post was written by Freedom to Marry's New Media Intern Joe Girton.

Wyoming State Senator Cale Case just became the latest Republican to speak out against marriage discrimination, joining an increasingly long list of conservatives who have bucked their party’s traditional stance on the freedom to marry.

Recently House Bill 74, a measure that would stop Wyoming from recognizing marriages and civil unions performed in other states, has been snaking its way through Wyoming’s state legislature (it was passed by the House and Senate, but a Senate amendment means the House will have to vote again). Wyoming already has a law excluding gay couples from marriage.

Enter a state senator from Lander, in central Wyoming, a lifelong Republican, a well-known advocate for limited government, and now, a clear voice against marriage discrimination in his home state.

Maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised. Cale Case’s arguments are rooted in logical, common sense reasoning. Case reminds us that Wyoming’s nickname is "The Equality State," and that the bill just doesn’t fit with the state’s supposed philosophy of limited government, or "live and let live," a sentiment echoed by many native Wyomingites in the article’s reader comments.

The senator’s comments focus on the injustice of denying spousal rights to legally married couples. "When you go home, you’re going to look people in the eye, you’re going to tell them you made them into second-class citizens today if you pass this. You can’t do that. We’re the Equality State," saud Sen. Case.

Other Republicans around the country are echoing Case’s consideration of core conservative values in thinking about ending marriage discrimination. The list is getting longer every day, with prominent politicians listing limited government, support for civil rights, and just plain fairness as reasons for their support.

Allan Kittleman, a GOP State Senator from Maryland has been an important voice in backing that state's bill to end marriage discrimination. The Senate will debate the bill this week and a vote will hopefully come soon. Kittleman credits his support to a lifelong commitment to civil rights.

"I was raised by a gentleman who joined with others in fighting racial discrimination in the 1950s and 1960s. Watching him fight for civil rights instilled in me the belief that everyone, regardless of race, sex, national origin or sexual orientation, is entitled to equal rights," said Sen. Kittleman.

He also makes sure to address a potential criticism many conservatives might have: the seemingly contradictory principles of a self-proclaimed "strong follower of Jesus Christ" and an advocate for marriage. "While my faith may teach that marriage is between a man and a woman, our government is not a theocracy," said Sen. Kittleman. "As the State Senator from District 9, I represent everyone in my district, regardless of their faith." By doing what any good politician should – affirming the separation of church and state by keeping personal religious convictions out of his legislative decisions – Kittleman could serve as a model for conservative thought as we move forward with the dialogue on marriage equality.

Another key character at the moment is Jeff Angelo, a Republican former State Senator from Iowa. Perhaps the most unexpected new advocate, Angelo was a longtime active foe of the freedom to marry. But he recently reevaluated his position, and testified against an anti-marriage amendment passed by the Iowa House last month (the measure will likely be blocked in the Senate).

"The resolution before you places pro-active, legislative language in our Constitution meant to limit the ability of a select group of citizens to be civilly joined in marriage. It does not restrain government intrusion in the lives of law-abiding citizens and therefore it violates the very purpose of our Iowa Constitution," he said. One might wonder why someone so previously invested in legislating marriage discrimination is now publicly urging his former colleagues not to.

Why? Because he, like more Republicans each day, realizes that defining marriage as between a man and a woman violates the value that he, as a conservative, places in preserving individual freedom.

The list goes on. Even Bob Barr, the Republican congressman who sponsored the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" back in 1996 nows favors repealing the law. "The Defense of Marriage Act insofar has provided the federal government a club, to club down rights of law-abiding American citizens, has been abused, misused, and should be repealed, and I will work to repeal it," Barr said. This man’s words say a lot about how far we’ve come since 1996.

The era of tired ideological chants is over. This isn’t a liberal issue, a conservative issue, or a religious issue. It’s a common sense issue on which more and more people of all faiths and political leanings come to agree on every day.