Same-Sex Marriage: The Conservative Apology


Ann Coulter once (humorously) accused a crowd of young libertarians of pandering to their liberal colleagues by flaunting their support of marijuana legalization, metaphorical dogs rolling over and exposing their bellies, waiting for the liberal master to pat them on the head and say “good boy!” While libertarians most certainly don’t believe in marijuana legalization just to subdue judgement by liberal peers, maybe Ms. Coulter was on to something.

A phrase uttered often in conversations with my Republican colleagues goes something like, “Oh, I’m fiscally conservative but socially liberal,” which normally means, “I’m a Republican, but I believe in same-sex marriage.” Right off the get-go, this raises two general issues.

To start with, while social liberalism does endorse the expansion of civil and political rights and liberties, it also subscribes to an involved federal government whose legitimate role is to address social issues such as poverty, health care, and education. Fiscal conservatism on the other hand, generally rejects the spending required by social liberalism. I am more than skeptical that one can claim to buy into social liberalism and still assert so-called “conservative” economic beliefs. It seems that the two are incompatible in too many ways and not easily combined.

And secondly, when examined past the level of equal treatment under the law, the concept of same-sex marriage is not all that liberal a concept. Same-sex marriage is an inherently conservative reform precisely because it supports the institution of marriage. Same-sex couples are asking to join in this traditional, normative societal organization, and are thereby reinforcing through their inclusion the traditional institution. A far more radical and “liberal” idea would be to question the normative culture surrounding the structure of marriage itself, even outright rejecting it for an alternative structure (or even better, lack of structure).

While it’s understood that no sweeping label of “conservative” or “liberal” covers every viewpoint held by an individual, I find this strange labeling phenomenon troublesome. Republicans are most certainly allowed to hold conservative economic views, however using only same-sex marriage to give grounds for a vague “socially liberal” label hinders healthy debate, and allows liberals to split all Republicans into two categories of “good” and “bad,” based merely on a single policy stance.

Too often this defense of character is offered up by conservatives as an apologetic tribute to liberals who believe they have a monopoly on compassion and reason, and worse, who don’t realize how conservative their support for same-sex marriage really is.

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  1. Great article, Mitch! Being “fiscally conservative but socially liberal” is not an oxymoron, though. The pursuit of individual liberty does not necessarily have to involve social spending.

    Legalizing marijuana for recreational use, for example, would save the country money because of the mass scaling back of the drug war, a reduced prison population, and so on. The only “involvement” of the government in this example would be its forfeit of control.

    The difference between liberals and libertarians, in my opinion, comes down to “how do we get there?” Liberals tend to look to the government to use public money to solve problems whereas Libertarians either look to the market or, in cases like drug use, feel the government should just keep out. When you look at issues like drug legalization, gay marriage, and even environmental policy (look at Rothbard’s response to pollution), it becomes very clear that liberals and libertarians agree on their end goals.

  2. I’ve felt the guilt and the frustration from many of my peers when I tell them that I’m a Republican. I often feel the need to defend myself and my views, something that is probably unfamiliar to most Democrats on a liberal college campus like mine unless they walk into a College Republican mass meeting by accident.

    I believe same-sex marriage has a place legally. The Bible states (stay with me here) that God hates divorce, but you don’t see religious protesters outside of courthouses, spewing insults and hate at divorcees like they do at homosexuals. God hates gluttony, but overweight people aren’t banned from churches or shamed like many gays, lesbians, or bisexuals. So regardless of whether or not I or the religious sect hold the viewpoint that homosexuality is a sin, that doesn’t give us the right to force a religious affiliation into U.S. law. Until the religious right begins rallying to make divorce and gluttony illegal or refuses to perform funerals for those to commit suicide, fully expect me to promote the legality of same-sex marriage.

    I’d like to address this post with a quote from a favorite TV character of mine (because Mitch knows I love my television). Here is a quote from last night’s season finale of HBO’s The Newsroom:

    “No, I call myself a Republican because I am one. I believe in market solutions and I believe in common sense realities and necessity to defend itself against a dangerous world. The problem is now I have to be homophobic. I have to count the number of times people go to church. I have to deny facts and think scientific research is a long con. I have to think poor people are getting a sweet ride. And I have to have such a stunning inferiority complex that I fear education and intellect in the 21st Century. Most of all, the biggest new requirement-–the only requirement-–is that I have to hate Democrats.” -Will McAvoy

    I’m “fiscally conservative but socially liberal.” This means that fiscally, I think it is better off for everyone fiscally to ensure that people get off of welfare (not because we take it away, but because they get jobs), have adequate healthcare (getting vaccines and enough money for healthy foods saves us from many health costs down the road) and have access to a proper education (investing in education is one of the smartest ways to spend our taxes). I believe in equal opportunity, not equal outcome. I don’t mean this in a “Tea Party” way that will make crowds who hate taxes cheer; I mean that I want to remove the employment barriers of internet literacy, unreliable transportation, and ethnicity, age, and gender discrimination. I want our government to focus on preventative public health initiatives rather than “sick care” because financially it will save me a lot of money in the long run. I want tax cuts, but this means that I want us to reduce or eliminate the problems that are currently draining our system. This doesn’t mean that the rich should infinitely pay more and more money, it means that investing in the right social programs now will save my kids and grandkids from paying the ridiculously high costs of global warming if we ignore the science or international inaction if we ignore problems in the Middle East and elsewhere. I don’t throw “socially liberal” in there because I’m apologizing to my friends that want abortion, same-sex marriage, or marijuana to be legalized. I consider it a part of my ideology because I have compassion for people that have felt pain from the conservatives who made poor fiscal policy in the past and also have compassion for businesses that conduct themselves ethically yet are lumped together with the shadier characters and are deemed insensitive or greedy.

    I’m not a good Republican or a bad Republican. I don’t like to identify myself with the party sometimes because it is so stigmatized. I’m just one individual in a sea of many, many people trying to use long term logic to figure out where I believe this country should be headed in order to ensure we can all be better off someday and which candidates will help us start down that path.

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