“I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”
These were the words of David Cameron, prime minister of the United Kingdom and leader of the Conservatives, to his party’s annual conference last October. He prefaced his remarks by calling for full legalization of same-sex marriage in Britain, saying that it was about commitment and the ties that bind us.
Cameron is hardly alone. He is part of a new generation of conservative leaders in Europe and America that goes beyond the recent trend of ambivalence on the subject of same-sex marriage and actually sees it as a winning conservative issue.
I agree with him, but I didn’t always. I used to oppose same-sex marriage, generally because of who was in favor of it. I despise the rhetoric and tactics used by the left to attack conservatives on the issue and I regret to say that I based my opposition mostly on that resentment.
Most people who oppose it are not bigots, are not homophobic and are not peddlers of hate. The vast majority are just good people who think marriage is between a man and woman. Being called — and seeing my friends called — homophobic hatemongers for believing that quickly polluted my opinion and turned me off to any kind of attempted persuasion.
But at some point I began to make peace with the fact that I don’t have to like the proponents or count myself among their ideological ranks to believe that they are actually right about the issue.
We learned this week that Maine voters are going to face this question in November, so I think it is time that the case was made with conservative logic.
I am of the libertarian breed of Republican, so my general philosophy has always leaned toward leaving people alone to do what they want if what they want doesn’t infringe on my rights or harm me or society at large.
People should be free to make their own free choices and associate with whom they want to, uninhibited by the state and unshackled from the heavy yoke of government manipulation. That philosophy has animated my intense loathing of the federal leviathan, my distrust in concentrated executive power and my revulsion at higher taxes, more spending and massive debt.
It also has caused me to believe that it is time to extend the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.
My support is not based on the concept of “rights.” State recognition of marriage — for heterosexuals or homosexuals — is not a right. Marriage, in the eyes of the state, is a special form of contract bestowed upon a certain class of citizens, and the state can define it however it wants. I do not have a right to have my Catholic marriage recognized by the state, and frankly I don’t view the state as legitimizing a promise between couples and God anyway.
Marriage existed before the state, and it will exist after the state. So since state-recognized marriage is about privilege rather than right, the question for me is whether that privilege should be extended to a new class of citizens. I believe it should.
To me, it is simply impossible to suggest that allowing homosexual couples legal recognition of voluntary contractual associations infringes on my rights in any way. It doesn’t. It is equally impossible to suggest that same-sex marriage harms me. It doesn’t.
As for societal harm, let’s be frank: Same-sex couples are committing to each other regardless of state recognition, so government recognition of a commitment contract between two people doesn’t particularly shift the paradigm from a cultural perspective.
Conservatives have always championed individual freedom to live their lives how they wish without the government saying “no.” We seem to care most when the government threatens to take our property or play rule maker about our private decisions.
We should care just as much about allowing free people to freely associate and freely commit to each other if they so desire.
The conservative message of individualism, personal responsibility and government noninterference has real appeal to the gay community, and that is something conservatives should embrace, rather than reject.
No, we don’t have to, but we should, and this November we will have an opportunity to.
Matthew Gagnon, a Hampden native, is a Republican political strategist. He previously worked for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read his blog at www.pinetreepolitics.com.