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Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The Turning (Conservative) Tide for Family Equality

One of the tragedies of the struggle for marriage equality has been the way the rightwing opposition has been able to portray this as a contest between the supporters of "marriage", and those bent on destroying the institution. This is clearly not so - the advocates for marriage and family equality are not wanting to destroy it, but to enlarge and strengthen it by bringing more couples and families under its legal protections. The opponents, on the other hand, who have insisted on a narrow and rigid, relatively modern interpretation which they insist on terming "traditional" marriage in total contradiction of all historical evidence, who who have re-interpreted and distorted it - and largely destroyed it themselves, with high rates of divorce and teen pregnancy. (Both of these rates are highest in the states most strongly opposed to marriage and family equality.)

Times, however, are changing. For some time, there have been signs that opposition to gay marriage is no longer the magic GOP vote winner that it once was. Earlier this year, the NOM poured big money into Republican Iowa primary races in support of state level candidates who promised to overturn last year's court judgement in favour of marriage - and they lost heavily. (In the same primaries, tea party candidates who steered clear of the marriage issue did well). More recently, in the wake of Judge Walker's judgement overturning the Prop 8 win against marriage, it was notable how Republican politicians were carefully avoiding notable comment.

The stance of the tea party is instructive, as it highlights one of the reasons conservative voices are now starting to speak up in favour of same sex marriage (or, more accurately, against laws to prevent it.) This is the libertarian belief that good government is limited government - and one of the areas where government should be just about entirely absent, is in the privacy of our bedrooms and families, especially at a time when there are urgent matters of jobs and the economy requiring attention. This was explicitly the argument used by Glen Beck last month, when he said
"Honestly, I think we have bigger fish to fry," Beck said. "You can argue about abortion or gay marriage or whatever all you want. The country is burning down...I don't think marriage, that the government actually has anything to do with...that is a religious right." "Do you believe gay marriage is a threat to the country in any way?" O'Reilly asked. "A threat to the country? No, I don't," Beck said, laughing, adding mockingly, "Will the gays come and get us?" Beck quoted Thomas Jefferson: "If it neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket, what difference is it to me?"
The other argument comes from the other wing of the Republican party, the social conservatives, who are finally recognising the obvious: that if marriage is a stabilizing force in society, as they have always believed, then it makes sense to bring more people into its embrace. This is the argument that gay conservatives like Andrew Sullivan have been making for years - but is now gaining wider, mainstream traction as well. The latest high profile Republican to make this case is Ted Schmidt, who was McCain's campaign manager in 2008.
“There is a strong conservative case to be made in favor of gay marriage,” former McCain campaign manager and fellow same-sex marriage fundraiser Steve Schmidt told the Huffington Post on Tuesday. “Marriage is an institution that strengthens and stabilizes society. It is an institution that has the capacity to bring profound joy and happiness to people and it is a matter of equality and keeping faith of one of the charters of the nation, the right to live your life.
These remarks were made to the Huffington Post - but that is not where I saw them. That was at FrumForum - hardly a hotbed of progressive thought, and yet another sign of how the conservative case against LGBT equality is fracturing.
As one prominent Republican who supports gay rights put it:
“I think there is a growing mass of people in Republican politics who are fundamentally sick and tired about being lectured to about morality and how to live your life by a bunch of people who have been married three or four times and are more likely to be seen outside a brothel on a Thursday night than being at home with their kids… There is a fundamental indecency to the vitriol and the hatred directed against decent people because of their sexuality. People have reached a critical mass with this.”
The NOM marriage bus tour to support "marriage" (by which was meant the revisionist, narrowly defined view), instead turned into a NOM bus crash and may instead have increased support for marriage - more broadly defined to include all families. In years to come, the NOM bus crash may be useful as a visual image for the moment when political opposition to full equality finally ran out of steam.

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