Bob Barr on conservatism
May 2nd, 2011
During his eight years (1995 – 2003) in the House of Representatives, Bob Barr (R-GA) was best know for his partisanship and conservative advocacy. Long an advocate of Second Amendment rights and suspicious of governmental spending – which he saw in terms of governmental encroachment on a free people – Barr seemingly found no inconsistency in toeing Republican Party positions which supported governmental encroachment on a number of social issues.
In addition to being a strong advocate for the Federal Government’s “war on drugs”, Barr took a leading role in opposing rights for gay people. In 1996, he was the author and chief supporter of the Defense of Marriage Act.
But the bombing of the World Trade center in 2001, coupled with the federal government’s crack down on civil freedoms, woke Barr up. His libertarianism ceased to be (as it is for many Republicans) a platitude around which exceptions are the norm and he began to question whether many of the positions he had one time championed were not actually in direct violation to the principles which he espoused.
Barr’s turn around has been dramatic. In 2006 he left the Republican Party and registered as Libertarian, serving as that party’s presidential candidate two years later. And he has also advocated for the legalization of marijuana.
But perhaps the most unexpected of Barr’s reversals has been his public repudiation of his most notable action in Congress, DOMA. Interestingly, this is not, I suspect, based out of some newfound appreciation for gay people; rather, it seems to flow from a newfound respect for freedom, individual autonomy, and constitutional equality.
Consequently, Barr speaks very differently from other advocates for the reversal of anti-gay governmental discrimination. His is not an advocacy that rails as “the bigots” but rather speaks to the ideals that permeate the writing, if not the thinking, of the Republican Party and it’s leaders.
Speaking over the weekend at the Log Cabin Republicans National Convention, Barr spoke specifically of marriage and the government’s role.
A federal law that burdens a fundamental right is – should – be deemed in violation of the principle of equal protection. When viewed as a fundamental personal decision on the right to associate, it clearly falls within the ambit of the XIV Amendment’s notion of “privileges or immunities.” Prohibitions against same-sex marriage violate the equal protection clause by placing more than a burden on this right – an outright prohibition for one group of individuals to exercise that right legally and to have their contracts enforced by the courts.
This is interesting language in that it brings up a point that our community can sometimes overlook. We tend to talk in terms of what marriage means to us: rights, responsibilities, community, recognition, and equality. Yes, marriage restriction does infringe on hospital visitation and inheritance tax. But those are not particularly strong arguments to those who may see changing visitation rules and tax codes as a solution.
Barr focuses instead on what we, as a people, have the right to expect and demand from our government.
As Linda Harvey flippantly says (and entirely misunderstands) we already can marry, and – contrary to Harvey’s assumptions – we can marry the person we love. And we may marry in every state, in every nation, anywhere we may find ourselves.
Marriage is a contract, a social, emotional, and financial agreement based on terms, conditions, and promises. These vows we may pledge, be it in front of an alter with family, friends and God as witness, or privately and quietly.
We can marry; that isn’t really our issue. Our issue is whether the state will recognize and enforce this contract.
And we have the right to demand that it do so. And opponents who argue that we can have wills, and powers of attorney, and ‘designated funeral-planning agent’ forms to provide “many of the same benefits” should be made to explain why it is that the state may enforce those contracts, but not the one we have already made.
But it is not specific issues, such as gay marriage or gay military service, that should be the focus for conservatives. Such thinking puts the emphasis on the who, not the what.
Barr believes, as do I, that in our approach to policy, we ought not start with the impact some law may have on gay people, but rather on whether any people should be subjected to some arbitrary control over their lives, regardless of their demographic. And it is that argument that can appeal to the principles of some who may never come to see us as morally equal but who can, nevertheless, see us as civilly and legally equal.
What many so-called conservatives fail to realize also is that defending traditional notions of morality (if consistency is to be a component also of our political philosophy) ought to include keeping the government as much out of our personal lives as possible and limiting its power as much as possible. And, speaking of morality, using the collective power of the state to do what individuals cannot do – impose the will of one group of people on another set of people – is truly immoral. We each were endowed by our Creator with one life and we should be free to live it as we see fit, so long as we do not harm another.
Former Rep. Bob Barr: DOMA “Clubs Down Rights of Law-Abiding Americans”
May 27th, 2008
Former Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga) authored the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which Pres. Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996. Today, Barr is now the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee. Speaking at the convention, Barr apologized for his role in further institutionalizing discrimination into American law: