Saturday, February 20, 2010

Is There Room For Gays In The Conservative Movement?

When I take a position on a political issue, I try to approach it with one priniciple in mind: as long as an action doesn’t impinge on anyone else’s rights, they should be free to do it. In 99% of cases, I absolutely believe that. It would be nice if such a simple priniciple could be applied universally, but it can’t. Because other factors are always trying to creep in. The social effects of an action. The ambiguity inherent in defining “impinge”. The devil is in the details, and there are always details.

But generally, that principle serves me well. I like it because it’s easily defended. There aren’t a lot of ways to challenge it without looking like someone who likes to take away other people’s freedom. That’s not to say the priniciple wins arguments. Defense mechanisms spring into place when a person’s deeply held beliefs are challenged. But these usually take the form of non sequitirs, hypocrisy, name calling, and strawmen. That allows the challenged to tell their like-minded internet brethern that they won the “fight”, but I get the satisfaction from knowing they’re wrong. No, wait. It would be more accurate to say that they didn’t show themselves to be right, which is a subtle distinction but an important one.

One of the more contentious issues for conservatives is the role gays should play (if any) in the movement. Those of a more religious bent would say none. The less socially conservative might disagree. The divide strikes at the heart of a very important question: what does it mean to be “conservative”?

I can only provide my own definition, and it is a hazy one. This is because there is no single definition. For me, conservatism embodies the idea of maximizing freedom. Freedom to live the way one wants to live, guided by the principle above: as long as an action doesn’t impinge on anyone else’s rights, they should be free to do it. For me this means supporting gay marriage. The idea that two people should be able to create a life together and be happy comes naturally to me. I don’t see how it harms anyone else if those people share a gender.

Of course, for some, those devilish details come creeping in at this point. They might argue that there is harm; harm to society, to social mores, the moral fabric. Those arguments are white noise to me, because these arguments are always framed within the speakers ideas of what is moral, what makes for a strong social fabric, and those ideas may not be mine. For this reason, I try to factor out arbitrary constructs like these.

Does that mean I think anything goes? Of course not. That’s a strawman. Real harm can be demonstrated as proceeding from certain actions, and those actions should be restricted. Drunk driving, for example. Child pornography. These actions represent a real danger of impinging on the rights of others. Being gay and married doesn’t, unless one decides they are an affront to one’s morals. However, to support that argument one must project one’s morals onto others.

Ultimately, where one falls on the argument of gay marriage is itself a strawman in the larger argument of the role of gays in the conservative movement. It seems difficult on the surface to be against gay marriage but embrace gays in the context of the larger movement. There’s definitely a bit of a disconnect there. But there’s a disconnect among conservatives who are pro-life and those who support abortion rights. There’s a disconnect between those who vote for anyone with a (R-) after their name and those who withold votes from RINOs. Conservatives don’t consist of a monolithic mass of people all thinking in lockstep. Those who think it should be so are sowing the seeds of their own political destruction.

Gays have always voted largely Democratic despite being betrayed time and again by politicians on the Left who promise them the moon and the stars and deliver nothing once the vote is cast. Slowly, gay conservatives are gaining traction with the realization that the Obama administration is no different. The gay conservative movement represents a great opportunity for the general movement if it is willing to take it. For some it will require reconciling the idea of maximizing freedom with the impulse to inject a personal moral code into the discussion.

(Crossposted from Say Anything)

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