The conservative case for same sex marriage

Some people think that only liberals support same sex marriage, and all conservatives are against it. I believe there is a strong argument that allowing same sex marriage is a conservative thing to do. I’ll cite a couple of conservative leaders in this argument. The first is Theodore Olsen writing at the Daily Beast. Olsen was the United States Solictor-General under George W Bush and Assistant Attorney-General for Ronald Reagan. Incidentially Olson was also Bush’s (private) lawyer for Bush v Gore in the Supreme Court and his wife was on one of the 9/11 hijacked flights. Also he is a founding member of the Federalist Society. Olsen writes:

Many of my fellow conservatives have an almost knee-jerk hostility toward gay marriage. This does not make sense, because same-sex unions promote the values conservatives prize. Marriage is one of the basic building blocks of our neighborhoods and our nation. At its best, it is a stable bond between two individuals who work to create a loving household and a social and economic partnership. We encourage couples to marry because the commitments they make to one another provide benefits not only to themselves but also to their families and communities. Marriage requires thinking beyond one’s own needs. It transforms two individuals into a union based on shared aspirations, and in doing so establishes a formal investment in the well-being of society. The fact that individuals who happen to be gay want to share in this vital social institution is evidence that conservative ideals enjoy widespread acceptance. Conservatives should celebrate this, rather than lament it.

So well said. And on the choice issue:

I understand, but reject, certain religious teachings that denounce homosexuality as morally wrong, illegitimate, or unnatural; and I take strong exception to those who argue that same-sex relationships should be discouraged by society and law. Science has taught us, even if history has not, that gays and lesbians do not choose to be homosexual any more than the rest of us choose to be heterosexual. To a very large extent, these characteristics are immutable, like being left-handed. And, while our Constitution guarantees the freedom to exercise our individual religious convictions, it equally prohibits us from forcing our beliefs on others. I do not believe that our society can ever live up to the promise of equality, and the fundamental rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, until we stop invidious discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Olsen also deals with history:

It seems inconceivable today that only 40 years ago there were places in this country where a black woman could not legally marry a white man. And it was only 50 years ago that 17 states mandated segregated public education—until the Supreme Court unanimously struck down that practice in Brown v. Board of Education. Most Americans are proud of these decisions and the fact that the discriminatory state laws that spawned them have been discredited. I am convinced that Americans will be equally proud when we no longer discriminate against gays and lesbians and welcome them into our society.

And the same applies here in NZ. Does anyone think the 1986 Homosexual Law Reform was wrong? Is anyone saying NZ is worse off because we allowed civil unions? To the contrary those who fought against civil unions are now citing them as so successful, they claim there is no need for same sex marriage.

Then in the UK, we have Conservative Party Leader and PM David Cameron:

But for me, leadership on families also means speaking out on marriage. Marriage is not just a piece of paper. It pulls couples together through the ebb and flow of life. It gives children stability. And it says powerful things about what we should value. So yes, we will recognise marriage in the tax system.

But we’re also doing something else. I once stood before a Conservative conference and said it shouldn’t matter whether commitment was between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and another man. You applauded me for that. Five years on, we’re consulting on legalising gay marriage.

And to anyone who has reservations, I say: Yes, it’s about equality, but it’s also about something else: commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.

Also London Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson has said:

One of the amazing things about London is that it’s not only got a declining crime rate, declining murder rate, more theatres than New York, less rainfall than Rome but it’s also one of the few places in the country where the rate of marriage is actually increasing and I see absolutely no reason why that happy state should be denied to anybody in our country. And that’s why I’m supporting the Out4Marriage campaign.

Back in the US prominent Republicans who support same sex marriage include Dick Cheney, Laura Bush and Cindy McCain.

In Australia we also have the former Leader of the Australian Liberal Party, Malcolm Turnbull who has said:

Families are the foundation of our society and I am firmly of the view that that we would be a stronger society if more people were married – and by that I mean formally, legally married – and fewer were divorced. …

And I have to say that I am utterly unpersuaded by the proposition that my marriage to Lucy, or indeed any marriage, is undermined by two gay men or two lesbians setting up house down the road – whether it is called a marriage or not.

Regrettably, this aspect of the debate is dripping with the worst sort of hypocrisy, and the deepest pools are all too often found among the most sanctimonious.

Let us be honest with each other. The threat to marriage is not the gays. It is a lack of loving commitment – whether it is found in the form of neglect, indifference, cruelty or adultery, to name just a few manifestations of the loveless desert in which too many marriages come to grief.

And Turnbull concludes:

If the threat to marriage today is lack of commitment, then surely other couples making and maintaining that commitment sets a good rather than a bad example.

Are not the gays who seek the right to marry, to formalise their commitment to each other, holding up a mirror to the heterosexuals who are marrying less frequently and divorcing more often?

There is a strong public interest in people living together and supporting and helping each other.

If, for just a moment, I can pretend to be an economist and know the price of everything and the value of nothing, there will plainly be less demand for social services, medical expenses, hospital care if people, especially older people, like Michael and Johan [the former Justice Kirby and his partner, Johan van Vloten], live together as opposed to being in lonely isolation consoled only by their respective cats.

Study after study has demonstrated that people are better off financially, healthier, happier if they are married, and indeed, I repeat, if they are formally married as opposed to simply living together.

Personally I’m very happy to be in the same camp as Dick Cheney, Boris Johnson, Theodore Olsen, David Cameron, Laura Bush, Malcolm Turnbull and John Key. The views above I think make clear that if you put aside the religious argument, then allowing same sex couples to marry is what conservative MPs should vote for.

Tomorrow I am going to blog on the religious issue, and my ideal situation where marriage is purely a religious ceremony, not a state institution. However while it is a state institution, it should not discriminate between types of couples.

Then on Tuesday I’m going to blog on the politics of the same sex marriage issue both in NZ and around the world.

On Wednesday the vote on the first reading is expected, and I imagine you’ll hear a lot less on the issue for six months or so.

Comments (125)

Login to comment or vote

Add a Comment