Conservatives: Shouldn't sovereignty of the individual include same-sex marriage?
I think conservatives should be the most ardent supporters of marriage equality--that is, if they're being intellectually honest with themselves.
If conservatives thought critically on the matter instead of succumbing to a knee-jerk hostility toward gay marriage, the debate should have been over before it started. Since conservatism versus liberalism can arguably be described as the sovereignty of the individual versus the sovereignty of the collective, it holds that the true conservative would defend his neighbor's right to conduct his life in the way he sees fit, love and commit himself to whomever he sees fit, and raise a family in whatever manner he sees fit, free of government interference--in much the same way the conservative idealist wishes to do the same.
After all, isn't that the point of individual freedoms? To be exercised in whatever manner you choose? In taking on the prosperous benefits of liberty, one reaps the consequences of his own choices, both good and bad. It is not, nor has it ever been, the prerogative of government to ordain the belief system of one individual or group and foist it upon another.
Starting nearly 400 years ago, people began coming here in droves from England to escape a government which ruled at the whim of a King and his misguided church. They wanted a place where they could live, raise families, and worship God in whatever manner they wished. And when the people of the colonies once again became wedged under a King's thumb, they revolted and formed their own governments, with their own representatives. While it may have taken a while for our own civil rights to catch up with the wording, they declared in one of the most famous documents in world history that all men are created equal and are imbued with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Fast forward. Why should conservative republicans be behind marriage equality? First, let's start with other civil rights issues. Like the abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, or black civil rights, marriage equality falls squarely in the corner of individual liberty and the sovereignty of every man--a corner in which republicans have firmly stood for more than 160 years.
It was indeed republicans who singlehandedly abolished slavery, gave former slaves full US citizenship, and gave them the right to vote. A full 100% of congressional republicans voted for (and passed) the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, while a striking 77% of democrats in congress opposed it. Not a single democrat in the House or Senate voted for the 14th Amendment granting former slaves full citizenship, but nearly every single republican on Capitol Hill voted for it. And when Southern states balked at implementing the 14th Amendment, Congress came back and passed the 15th Amendment in 1870, guaranteeing blacks the right to vote. Every single republican voted for it, and every single democrat voted against it. Read that again.
It was republicans who overwhelmingly guaranteed women's suffrage in the 19th Amendment, with 91% of republicans in congress voting for it while 40% of democrats opposed it. And it was republicans like Martin Luther King Jr. who tirelessly fought segregation in the 1960's. 80% of House republicans and 82% of Senate republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act, compared with 63 and 69% of democrats, respectively. Republicans have been firmly positioned on the right side of every major human rights issue that has faced this nation, and it should be republicans leading the charge for the individual right of any two consenting adults to form their own social and economic unions as they see fit. Up until today, the Right has always been on the right side of history.
It is indeed the people who wish to espouse domestic stability and stronger, more stable homes and families in our culture that conservatives should be supporting, which makes it all the more puzzling to me that conservatives often have an instant hostility to the idea of gay marriage. Those are values everyone should be supporting in today's America.
A man and a woman, of course, are welcomed and encouraged to form a healthy relationship, a stable home, and a social and economic partnership, committing their lives to one another in love and making the needs of their spouse their own. No one will disagree that this strengthens our communities and strengthens us as a society. But the way some conservatives--especially from the religious wing of the Republican Party--have talked about same-sex marriage, you'd think the sky was going to rip apart at the seams if two people of the same gender were allowed to do the same. That thinking is unfortunate considering we'll gleefully put a seal of approval on the weddings of child molesters, incarcerated rapists, and serial domestic batterers--so long as those unions involve a man and a woman.
Many evangelical conservatives may oppose the idea of marriage equality because of their own religious beliefs. While our Constitution guarantees the right to freely exercise our individual religious convictions, on the same token it prohibits us from forcing our beliefs on others. Again, that was the whole reason we left England in the first place. That was also the whole purpose of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom authored by Thomas Jefferson in 1777. So it is the purpose of many, if not most, opening articles in state constitutions across this nation (including my home state of Indiana). No matter what kind of personal convictions a conservative may have, it’s important to remember that when individual liberty reigns and thrives in our society, the entire nation thrives. That's the whole reason this nation has thrived for 238 years. A gay couple getting married down the street will not lead to the closing of churches across town any more than Kim Kardashian's or Elizabeth Taylor's dime-a-dozen marriages are devaluing my parents' 34 years of loving commitment to one another.
The fact that same-sex couples want to be included in the institution of marriage is not an assault on family values; it is an embrace of those values. We shouldn't be devaluing the individuality of anyone in our society and depriving them of liberty by telling them they don't have the right to live as they see fit, commit themselves in love to one another, or form stable American households. (gasp!)
To conservatives: don't be someone who talks the talk about limited government, individual freedom, and stronger families and then ignores all three when it comes to marriage equality. Preaching about individual freedoms and the restraint of government, yet turning right around and demanding that the government prohibit two adults of the same gender from committing themselves to one another? Well that's hypocrisy of the highest order.
I don't support gay marriage despite being a conservative; I support it because I'm a conservative.
Maybe someday I can even get married, too.
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