Are gay issues today “fundamentally conservative”?

Timothy Kincaid

February 22nd, 2012

Writing an op-ed in the Washington Times, a newspaper that presents its stories with a decidedly conservative perspective, Log Cabin Executive Director Clarke Cooper presents a notion that may not sit comfortably with many in our community:

Our community’s goals today are fundamentally conservative, and it will take conservative voices, like Paul Babeu’s, to achieve them.

About “conservative voices”, there is no question. Clarke is absolutely correct in noting that Conservatives – such as the readership of Washington Times – are not open to listening to organizations that are in alliance with immigrant rights advocates or labor unions or whose executive directors co-chair Democratic election campaigns.

If such people are to be reached, it will be through those who are not perceived as part of “The Establishment Left” and therefor the enemy, but by those with whom they find agreement on other issues.

But what about the idea that community’s goals today being fundamentally conservative?

I believe that Cooper’s assertion has some merit. While marriage and family and tradition and social assimilation and military service are not the property of any party or ideology, ideas that relate to more structure and increased formality are understood to be conservative in both a general and a political sense. It seems to me that “I should be free to sleep with whomever I want” and “I should be free to marry whomever I want” are in very different places and speak to people in very different ways.

Of course both are aspects of the bigger issue that gay people should be equal, whether that equality applies to sexual freedom or marriage freedom. But most political activists who have been engaging in the battle for equality will acknowledge that there is a marked difference in our community’s immediate goals and objectives.

Of course, Conservatives such as the leaders (though not the attendees) at CPAC, reject the idea that anything gay could possibly have any conservative elements. Which leads to fascinating assertions such as “I don’t really believe homosexuals want to get married, they just want to destroy marriage”.

And of course, some in our community have been subjected to abuse from Conservatives for so long that they will find it challenging to apply the word “conservative” to anything they favor.

But, nevertheless, Cooper’s point is worth considering. What do you think?


February 22nd, 2012

I remember Andrew Sullivan saying something like this when he made an appearance in the “Tying the Knot” documentary. He pointed out that marriage and family are Conservative values, so why would Conservatives support similar behavior in gay people?

Of course, this does no good for those who can’t even get past how they incorrectly and unfairly view all non-straight people. Until we can get through to this vast group of people the simple fact that homosexuality is a characteristic and not a behavior choice or an agenda, and that it is a perfectly normal, but less common variation of human characteristics, points about equality and assimilation will fall on deaf ears. They won’t accept an argument that something they think is harmful and immoral has to be accepted and included in societal functions. There really needs to be some kind of well-publicized, non-political campaign to show that homosexuality is innate, immutable, harmless, and morally-neutral. The best any of us can do is come out if we’re still closeted to some or all of the people close to us, and encourage friends of ours who are closeted to come out. My mother wasn’t very accepting of gay people until her own daughter came out to her, while still single, and showed her that homosexuality has to do with attraction and that homosexual couples are capable of love and devotion. It’s not simply just some kind of sexual fetish. You’d be surprised how many people only see it as such. Coming out means everything. There are countless others out there like my mother, whose thoughts on this haven’t been challenged because the issue isn’t close to home.

Mark Barton

February 22nd, 2012

It depends on what you take conservatism to mean. I’m afraid I’m cynical and take real-world conservatism to be nothing more than justifying and extending the privilege of the traditionally privileged, whether that’s rich people, or whites, or men, or Christians, or whatever. And so no, gay-friendly policies can never be conservative, because they implicitly concede that having rigidly differentiated male and female roles is largely pointless. And the male role can hardly be privileged if it doesn’t exist.


February 22nd, 2012

I think with the breakaway and formation of GOProud Log Cabin Republicans became much more relevant. They are the sane and rational gay representatives of gay conservatism and are in a much better position to make the gay conservative case than GOProud, whose reason for existence in 100% based on hatred of liberals (straight and especially gay) rather than to promote support of conservatism or gay rights. I still have many differences of opinion with LCR, which I was once a member of, but I believe that they are an invaluable voice and presence in the struggle for gay equality, justice and acceptance.

Jim Burroway

February 22nd, 2012

I don’t know about “fundamentally conservative.” It depends of how broadly or how narrowly one wants to define “gay issues.”

But those gay issues which are important to conservative gays (and many nonconservative gays as well), are often, by their nature, fundamentally conservative. I can’t think of many things which align better with what we typically categorize as conservative values than than settling down and getting married or joining the military.

I think hate crime laws and anti-discrimination measures probably meander a bit away from what is traditionally considered conservative though. I’m also not quite sure that assimilation is a good thing and I definitely oppose the idea that it should be a goal — although if you look at my life I’m probably the poster child for assimilation.


February 22nd, 2012

Conservitisim is about preventing change so no as long as “Gay Issues” revolve around change then no they are not “fundamentally conservative” values.

Worse is this morphing of the vales Marriage, Family, Equality as “Fundamentally conservative” when they are not. These are values that are shared between all humans, these are “Fundamentally human” and we should never label them as conservative or liberal or libertarian values

I for one am sick of seceding my claim to Family and America and Liberty to the conservatives. They do not own them and just because I pursue it doesn’t mean I am suddenly a conservative.


February 22nd, 2012

Tim –

You should link to the British PM’s speech on this support for marriage. It was the best take that I have read on this question in a while.

Priya Lynn

February 22nd, 2012

I’m with Mark and Kith. Conservatism is about conserving the status quo which is gays as unacceptable and so marriage equality is not a traditional conservative position.

Its certainly possible for conservatives to accept marriage equality as a conservative position. The conservatives of today are the liberals of yesterday, both conservatives and liberals are getting more liberal with time.


February 22nd, 2012

As Mark Burton points out, it also depends on what you mean by conservative. Historically speaking, in my view, a simple one line understanding of a conservative is a person who values the inherited at the expense of the new. To put it another way: the past was stable & we shouldn’t abandon it so quickly.

This is the philosophy which underpinned the Revolutionary Tory’s preference for a constitutional monarchy over democracy. This was the guiding philosophy of the anti-federalist opposition to the constitution and it later became the philosophy of the Democratic-Republicans who valued the decentralized constitutional government they inherited over the even more centralized Federalists’ plan. Conservatism is what buttressed the Democrats’ opposition to emancipation before the civil war and to civil rights after. And conservatism is the philosophy of the contemporary Republican who opposes the inclusion of gay people in social institutions like marriage.

While the institution itself is championed by self-declared conservatives such championing does not grant ownership. And to include a class of people in an institution who were never historically included therein (in the USA) would be to abandon the inherited understanding of the institution at the expense of a new understanding. Gay Marriage, at least, is antithetical to conservatism.


February 22nd, 2012

Echoing some of the comments above, it depends on how “conservative” is defined. Yes, it’s possible to look at gay marriage as reinforcing the family structure and stability and values that normally fall within the “conservative” domain.

However, I think one need look no further than the current attack on women’s rights and freedoms to see a potentially pretty broad crack in that line of thinking, with panels of predominantly white men making decisions and policy affecting women’s health issues.

Unfortunately the “conservative” view of family tends to be deeply structured and understood to consist of dominant male head of the household, with wife and children falling in line between him. (It could be argued that the “liberal” view of family is more about shared decisions and responsibilities between the parents to raise and nurture the children. I forget where but I’ve read sociology studies that back up this difference in ideology and world-view.)

Which explains why, for straight liberals, it’s not a big reach to conclude that as long as a pair of complementary parents are sharing their responsibilities effectively, it doens’t make a difference whether they’re opposite-sex or same-sex. But for many ideological conservatives, the concept of a “family” consisting of TWO patriarchal males or TWO submissive females just will not compute. They can’t comprehend it.

Whether having a “conservative voice” like Babeu will change their minds or just turn them against him, I guess we’ll see.


February 22nd, 2012

The following is long, but that’s because apparently some folks here need an education.

Things don’t always mean what you think they mean, and you need to know your history in order to understand where you are, and where you’re going.

I disagree with Kith about the facile definition of Conservatism. In fact, the problem is that we are at a point where Conservatism and Liberalism are transitioning (again) in their meanings. The party affiliations are still catching up, and the current disarray in American politics really seems to demonstrate this.

Over big chunks of American history, Conservatism or liberalism was explicitly in relation to government involvement in business.

Conservatism has meant “pro-business” and laissez faire economics — specifically because the chief mechanism available to the general public against the strength of industry in a capitalist society is government.

Along for the ride were the values of the moneyed elite who drive business – think 19th century blue-blood northeasterners who summer in Newport. And this is how the Republican Party was the Party of Lincoln — and the industrialized North. These definitions were virtually engraved in stone through the deep emotional scarring of the Civil War.

In the mid-20th century, however, this all changed. Democrats – the party of labor – became enmeshed with Civil Rights thanks to Kennedy and Johnson. In response, Nixon embarked on his Southern Strategy — to harness disaffected and undereducated southern blue-collar demographics reacting to the Dems to bolster the shrinking wealthy elite membership of the GOP.

Tack in the 2nd wave of Civil Rights and the anti-war movement – fueled by the educational opportunities available for the first time after WWII, and you see the formation of the current coalitions — and the seeds of a very unfortunate anti-intellectualism in the GOP.

It took 2 generations (studies show that party affiliations are fixed after the 2nd election for most people), but the demographics flipped in America – the Republicans taking the South, and the Democrats owning the industrial north.

The values of those regions and coalitions then redefined what we call “liberalism” versus “conservatism”, but without really having the discussion. Eight years of Reagan (“the great communicator”) embedded these definitions seemingly in stone for a generation – and we’re still reeling from that. Reagan’s definition have only a passing compatibility with previous implications. This is why many are using “Progressive” rather than “liberal” (that, and Reagan succeeded in turning “liberal” into a dirty word).

“Liberalism” now is equated with the demographic groups under the Dem tent: gays, blacks, latinos, educated middle-class, northern, and urban. This is a fractured coalition, but at least everyone knows what’s on the table.

“Conservatism” has taken on the values of the predominantly rural south: “God, gays, and guns”, but is also characteized (for better or worse) as: disaffected, religious, antigovernment, working class, overwhelmingly white, predomininantly male, protestant, heterosexual. Except that the rich opposed to government intervention (read: taxes and regulation) are still along for the ride – they’re just using the manipulatable underclass to drive the ballots. This is not a marriage built to last (sound familiar?).

There is some superficial validity to what Kith declares as a given definition: backward-looking party averse to change (and by implication a host of other things that makes him/her resentful). But it hasn’t always been that… and it won’t always be so.

The problem is still the Reagan-era branding of “conservative values”. Not since the great social experiments of the 60’s have “family values” been the sole perview of Conservatives. Likewise with respect to “fiscal prudency”.

The problem is that we continue to shorthand – as does Kith – without thinking, wielding these definitions carelessly. The politicians are the worst – they do this deliberately to persuade and manipulate. That doesn’t mean we have to partake or stop thinking for ourselves.

If your politics fit on a bumpersticker, or if you haven’t rebelled against labels, you need to take a weekend off, turn off the TV, and break out of some of your boxes…

Timothy Kincaid

February 22nd, 2012

I’m also not quite sure that assimilation is a good thing and I definitely oppose the idea that it should be a goal — although if you look at my life I’m probably the poster child for assimilation.

Good point. Assimilation is probably something that happens despite everyone’s best intention not to.

I was watching one of HGTV’s many buy-a-house shows (why are they so addictive?) and in it a gay couple wanted to buy in the gay-friendly Silverlake area. But they were adopting kids and ultimately they could get more for their money in very-straight Burbank and the kids would need play space. So although they were a little worried about whether the neighborhood was as hip, funky, and vibrant as they liked, view and a pool were abandoned for a tree lined street in heteroworld. At the end of the episode, their new neighbors came by to introduce themselves and welcome them. And already you could see – right before your eyes – assimilation was taking place.

Priya Lynn

February 22nd, 2012

Andrew, you see conservatism in a rather narrow American context. Conservatism in general is about being averse to change.


February 22nd, 2012


In the English speaking world, since the time of Smith, it has been explicitly related to economics, not social policy.

American conservatism is the only context under discussion here. In order to engage in the conversation you’re suggesting, we’d have to disect the political landscape of each culture in question.

Are you prepared to digress into the question of conservatism as it relates to federalism versus separation in Canada? How conservatism relates to the question of Northern Ireland or the Euro? Of course not. But they are thorougly enmeshed.

When a person identifies with a party, they become more receptive to other planks of their platform as they adopt the mantle of the tribe.

We are unquestionably discussing American Conservatism here. And it means a LOT more than “resistance” to change.


February 22nd, 2012

Tim & Jim — assimilation and its consequences are the underdiscussed topic of our generation. Our previous generations fought the Civil Rights wars, but as in every revolution, the winners are faced with the “but what now” situation. At least we haven’t devoured our young as happens in so many revolutions.

I admit it: I crave the life I grew up with — suburban, stable, married, family.

I also miss the community that is slowly going bankrupt – gay groups and clubs that are gradually losing their place (and their revenue stream) because we no longer require a safe haven… or just a place where there’s enough critical mass to find a potential mate.

I also occasionally tire of having to serve as ambassador to Gayland to my various hetero’s in my life. It’s a vacation sometimes hang out exclusively with my old gay-only friend groups. I can crack wise with or tease using topics of humor that would stop conversation in a hetero-dominated group.

We should talk more about assimilation… the virtues, and also the price paid.

Priya Lynn

February 22nd, 2012

Andrew, you’ll have to excuse us if we don’t consider you the authority on the definition of conservative. The phrase conservative has far broader implications than economics alone.

Whether or not gay issues are conservative issues extends far beyond the United States although I realize that to Americans like you the world ends at the U.S. border.


February 22nd, 2012

Priya, I’m unclear why you a) take something written in an American paper about the American political scene, embedded with specific cultural meanings to America, hijack it for some discussion not at hand, and then accuse anyone returning to the original discussion of being the one who’s provincial. How nice it must be to so smug.

I’ve spent a quarter of my life outside America, and I still am involved in politics outside my borders.

Just as I didn’t make this discussion a global topic, I don’t conflate “separation”, discussed in a Canadian newspaper, in a Canadian context, as somehow having some global meaning in other countries. As an example.

I do respect that in discussions like this, CONTEXT MATTERS. Although, I could like some, just decide that the only context that matters is whatever I feel like. Because then I can make the conversation all about me. Hooray!

My reaction was to someone re-defining for the rest of us, and for the author of the WaPo piece, what conservatism means, and then getting resentful. How can anyone feel resentful at being called something that doesn’t mean what they think it means?

More importantly, how dare they put words in the author’s mouth? And speaking of putting words in mouths, please don’t speak on my behalf. Some of us Americans (although you didn’t actually ask, yes I am), aren’t the convenient ugly stereotype that makes you feel superior.


February 22nd, 2012

Andrew, after reading your last comment something about glass houses comes to mind…

Anyway, my dictionary defines “conservative” as 1. disposed to maintain the status quo or 2.cautious. Funny… No mention of Adam Smith.

I still think the consistent position, across time, of conservatives (however that word has related to a particular political party or movement) has been an aversion to the new. Be that new Economic ideas or new social ideas.


February 22nd, 2012

Blake, we both know that “conservative” has definitions far outside of politics. I’m pretty sure that when Ronald Reagan dramatically changed the economics and foreign policy of the U.S. in the states, that didn’t qualify as “resistance to change”. It was, however, remarkably pro-business.

It’s precisely the hijacking and morphing of the word that I was talking about previously – the word continues to mean different things over time – at least when it comes to American politics.

But thanks for tossing out an opinion but, rather than taking responsibility for it, citing a 3rd party reference that you think no one can argue with.

As for glass houses, I don’t think I’m putting words in Priya’s mouth. Nor did I put words in Kith’s (the resentful person I cited):

“I for one am sick of seceding my claim to Family and America and Liberty to the conservatives. They do not own them and just because I pursue it doesn’t mean I am suddenly a conservative.”

I’m sorry, was “sick of” and “resentful” qualitatively different? Please, consult your dictionary and get back to us.

Priya Lynn

February 22nd, 2012

Andrew said “Blake, we both know that “conservative” has definitions far outside of politics.”.

And yet in your first post you were adamantly denying that. As Blake points out the definition of conservative (what most people think it means) has next to nothing to do with your long-winded “patting yourself on the back” self-importance and everyting to do with being averse to change. You’re wrong and no amount of long-winded navel gazing is going to change that.

Andrew, obviously quebec separation has nothing to do with this topic and for you to suggest that for that reason this discussion only applies to Americans is idiotic. Your vain attempt to sound worldly is rather sad given that if you had anything beyond a superficial knowledge of Canada you’d know the issue of seperation has nothing to do with liberalism or conservatism and hasn’t been an issue of any sort in Canada for many years.

Americans don’t own the concept of conservative or whether or not conservative issues are gay issues, that it was written by an American newspaper is no more relavant than if an american newspaper talks about birth control – it is not an American only issue.

I don’t feel superior, its obviously you that does and attitudes like yours that only American opinions matter are the reason why people like you are despised outside your borders and humble Americans prefer to wear Canadian flags on their backpacks when they travel the world. When you pompously appear here and declare “some folks here need an education.” and pretend you are the one to provide it you are demonstrating exactly the sort of arrogance that leads to the stereotype of the ugly Amercian.

You may have spent time outside of the borders of the U.S. but you obviously haven’t learned the simple lesson of having a little humility. Obviously going around the world and bragging about how great Americans are hasn’t opened your eyes to the world beyond your border.


February 22nd, 2012

Andrew, now I’m getting something about forests and trees…

I’m certainly not one to be calling people out on their arrogance, so I’ll leave that one to Priya, and we may have been posting at the same time, so you might not have seen it, but, for what it’s worth, I did put a definition of conservatism out there that I did not pull from a dictionary.


February 22nd, 2012

That long thread up there telling everyone what conservatism is reeks of Humpty Dumpty from Through the looking Glass.

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

So since you accuse me of short chaining people. How about I say it rudely. I am not going to give ownership of Liberty, Family, Marriage, and Equality to a random group of strangers who may or may not be anti-change (though from the current agreed upon point of view they seem anti-change) just so they might share a piece of the pie with me.

Gay Issues are not “Fundamentally Conservative” issues they are fundamentally human issues and I should not have to seceded my claim to them so “Conservatives” (not to disparage the rich history of the American Conservative movement by calling this particular group by the label they have chosen) can feel good about how they vote.

Because when I read a “Conservative” (once again I am making no attempt to disparage the rich history of the conservative movement by using this label which was self chosen) making arguments like the above article references, what I partially read is “Buddy up the “conservatives” (or whatever they may be called as to not disparage the rich history of american conservatism) and convince them that these ideas are old world values that actually belong to them so they can finally get around to doing the right thing and I no longer feel like an ass for teaming up with them.”


February 22nd, 2012

According to Republican Barry Goldwater, who was Mr. Conservative and from Arizona, said that gay rights was a conservative issue. Of course social conservatives will vehemently disagree.

Neon Genesis

February 23rd, 2012

But even putting aside social conservatives, libertarian conservatives would still be opposed to gay marriage because they hate the idea of government marriage in general and they think that either states should be allowed to vote on gay marriage or that there should be civil unions for all and the government should stay out of marriage. So even putting aside the social conservative aspect, gay marriage as understood as a federally recognized government contract between individuals of the same sex is still antithetical to conservatism because conservatives hate everything to do with the evil feds.

Timothy (TRiG)

February 23rd, 2012

Neon Genesis,

The problem with the Libertarian argument that the government should “get out of marriage altogether” is that this is merely used as an excuse to avoid working on equality. No one saying that is actively putting in any work to dismantle opposite-sex marriages.

And besides, conservative appeals to “small government” are completely disingenuous.



February 23rd, 2012

“And of course, some in our community have been subjected to abuse from Conservatives for so long that they will find it challenging to apply the word “conservative” to anything they favor. ”

That is the truth of the matter. I have wished for a different word to apply to parameters within the physical sciences because of the association in my mind of “conservative” = “bat-poop crazy advocate of deportation for gay citizens”. I might, might, be willing to consider accepting that equality is a common cause with some on the right if a different word was used, because I hear someone proclaim that they are “conservative” and I really have a hard time taking anything they say as anything but a veiled threat against my equality or existence.

Neon Genesis

February 23rd, 2012

The only plausible conservative argument I can think of that you can make in favor of gay rights would be to say it’s more conservative to keep the government out of regulating people’s private sex lives but to say that gay issues are “fundamentally conservative” would be like saying pacifism and climate change are “fundamentally conservative” just because I find one or two conservatives who support activism on those issues.

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