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Timothy Kincaid

October 5th, 2011

In our era of identity politics in which positions are often based less on principle than on who else believes it, I find myself marveling at the contortions that folks go through to justify their views. Small government libertarians who find justification for federal intervention into state marriage policy, civil rights activists who argue for excluding rights based on attributes, advocates for religious freedom who propose imposing their moral code on others, champions of tolerance who berate those who dare be of a differing political identity, foes of racism, sexism, and heterosexism who hold conferences with strict race-, sex-, and orientation-based criteria for participation, and defenders of diversity who only know people identical to themselves in all possible relevant ways.

But perhaps the most ironic (and entrenched) identity-based paradox is that of conservative traditionalists who oppose gay marriage. Of all possible expectations that a society can place on its gay citizens (other than the flippant “don’t be gay”), nothing is more traditional or conservative than marriage. Marriage is conformist, often religious, steeped in expectation, bound by socially enforced rules, and – as conservatives are quick to remind us – the bedrock of society, the most basic form of social unit, and an inculcator of values, traditions, and notions about family. Marriage is the smallest of small government. It is the place where a balanced budget is unquestioned, where “spend less” is a shared goal, where “family values” is literal and the only “special rights” are the ones you choose. In a logical world, conservatives would not only support gay marriage, they’d insist on it.

Absent the peculiarities of Social War alliances and doctrinal demands, the natural response of the conservative would be, “Stop all this running around and grow up already. Find someone decent, settle down, get married, and start contributing to society for once, you hippie!” Okay, maybe not the hippie reference, but you know what I mean.

As does the leader of Britain’s Conservative Party, David Cameron.

“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,” he said.

“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.”



Blair Martin
October 5th, 2011 | LINK

This is the same tack I’ve been taking with Australia’s conservative politicians (the Liberal & National Party coalition). I am not a conservative voter or supporter, though I can come across that way (especially rocking up to their offices in the full suit and tie rig!) and do find it odd that I would be in agreeance with David Cameron on any matter, but there it is.

I started using a statement by former Iowa State Senator, Jeff Angelo (R) – which encompasses clearly why someone who promotes themselves as being “conservative” should fully support marriage equality. Truly, the only people that cannot be reached with the arguments for marriage equality are the terribly fundamentalist religious folk (but, even then I’ve discovered opportunities to challenge them!)

Thanks Tim for bringing Cameron’s statement to our attention. It is a valuable asset in the battle to enact full marriage equality.

Nick Thiwerspoon
October 5th, 2011 | LINK

I’ve always thought it bizarre that the conservatives should be so hostile towards gay marriage. Your argument is exactly the one I’d use. And of course, it’s why some gays are “agin” gay marriage: it’s (in effect) bowing down to the majority.

Richard Rush
October 5th, 2011 | LINK

In a logical world, conservatives would not only support gay marriage, they’d insist on it.

A problem is that the people you are talking about are not conservatives. It is a perversion of a perfectly good word. They insist on self-identifying with that label because it apparently bestows some elevated esteem. And everyone else allows them to get away with it. We need a new word. I’m leaning towards “controlatives” – and that’s because I’m feeling uncharacteristically respectful today.

San Diego Rob
October 5th, 2011 | LINK

You gotta love his balls…… it would be nice if our president had balls….

October 5th, 2011 | LINK

Wow, someone with a logically consistent world view in politics, I’m shocked!

October 5th, 2011 | LINK

@ richard rush – that is brilliance personified

October 5th, 2011 | LINK

@Richard Rush:

I believe the word you’re searching for is “authoritarians.”

October 6th, 2011 | LINK

And we broke from Britian becaaaause…….

Other Fred in the UK
October 6th, 2011 | LINK

While I not suggesting Cameron is a coward, backing gay-marriage is backing a winning horse in Britain. Voters who oppose gay marriage have no one to vote for that would affect Parliamentary arithmetic.

Whilst it would be wonderful to see President Obama show such moral leadership, it would require political courage bordering on martyrdom.

October 6th, 2011 | LINK

In 1995, back when he was smokin hot (and before he got portly and bearded), Andrew Sullivan wrote a non-fiction book called “Virtually Normal”. (And yes, Andrew, I’m still sorry for drunkenly hitting on you in that bar in P-town in 1996, but hey, when a hot intellectual guru who changes your life turns up in public, on vacation, well, who’s going to let that opportunity pass you by? I still think you should have gone home with me, but I appreciate you not getting a restraining order.)

This book changed my life – it gave me language and structure to frame ideas and feelings I had but couldn’t fully wrap my head around because I was trapped by wrong assumptions, old rules, and other peoples’ language.

Sullivan does something fascinating – he breaks politics out of stale “liberal / conservative” duality and views this issue (and others) like a compass — with Liberationist / Prohibitionist views on one axis, and Liberal / Conservative ideas on the other access.

He followed this up the following year with an anthology of arguments around the issue of gay marriage.

Interestingly, the strongest argument FOR gay marriage, which is identical to Cameron’s, came from the thoughtful conservatives. I can’t help but wonder if Sullivan won’t ultimately be a strong influencer on successful conservatives, and provide them with a roadmap to do the right thing, while framing the argument in a way that their fellow (less thoughtful) conservatives can digest and accept.

October 6th, 2011 | LINK

I’m with Richard, the meaning of “Conservative” (Big C)depends on context. Contrast Cameron’s vision with Gingrich’s prediction. Both men represent “Conservative” viewpoints. Cameron is intellectually honest while the American Conservative is often opposed to or suspicious of intellectualism. Gingrich’s Conservatism is a dead-end philosophy of high-nostalgia whilst Cameron’s is attempting to extend conservative (little c) principles to a new class of people. He is attempting to make an institution, Marriage, more perfect in a free society. In that since he is acting as a liberal (classically). Andrew, I would really like to read Sullivan’s book. Right now my viewpoint is shaped by an essay: F.A. Hayek’s “Why I am Not a Conservative”. You can find it by googling it. The basic premises sound similar.

October 6th, 2011 | LINK

Blake, Sullivan would probably term Gingrich a Prohibitionist rather than a conservative – and I prefer that term for someone who shuffles papers for his third divorce while pushing DOMA legislation through Congress with no sense of irony. The fact is, conservatives should tell Conservatives to stop using their name in vain.

October 6th, 2011 | LINK


To be fair *second* divorce (he’s “only” up to wife No. 3).

Stephanie Miller likes to joke that she hopes Callista doesn’t sneeze around Newt–he may start looking for a healthy, vivacious young PA to accompany him on trips where he can become overwhelmed by his “love for America.”

October 8th, 2011 | LINK

your reference to “Virtually Normal” reminded me. When my husband brought that book home so long ago, my first reaction to it was ‘what assimilationist trash!’ I came out ino a relatively liberationist social milieu in the late ’70s, when I was a senior in high school.

Now, at fifty, my husband and I are legally married, with two legally adopted sons, living in suburban Oakland CA. We belong to the PTA, are recognized as a couple everywhere we go – even my Masonic lodge.

In short, I wound up being even more ‘virtually normal’ than Sullivan. The humor is not lost on my husband.

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