Supporters of gay marriage were handed a broad and sweeping victory in California earlier this month when Judge Vaughn Walker overturned Proposition 8 – a voter-initiated state constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage. While many on the right immediately reacted in protest, the ruling gives much reason for conservatives to reevaluate their stance and ultimately their politics in a fashion that is more consistent with their professed principles.
Much of conservative thought is grounded in the conception of individual liberty. Individuals have the natural right to be free from oppressive arbitrary coercion. While such liberty may result in some individuals choosing to live lifestyles that others may find objectionable, ultimately a principled conservative realizes that using the tools of government to force compliance with one particular way of life or discriminate against those who do not conform is unjust.
While most conservatives rightly uphold this principle, it far too often falls to the wayside when certain lifestyle choices come to the fore – in this instance gay marriage. Regardless of how one perceives a homosexual lifestyle, the concept of individual liberty cannot condone interference in such personal choices. Every individual should have the right to choose their life-partner and be treated equally under the law.
At the same time as ignoring this fundamental principle of conservative thought, many conservatives rely on the “family values” argument to bolster their position. However, anti-gay policies miss the true importance of family values. Not only does this distort what is truly worthwhile about family values, but it helps foster a counterculture that is unnecessarily opposed to such meaningful values.
The object is to recognize what “family values” are. The simplistic construct that family values represent a husband, wife, 2.4 kids, a picket fence, and a dog is meaningless. True family values are about a small social group – the family – that is built around the ideals of commitment, mutual support, responsibility, duty, and a number of other important attributes. In this sense, it is obvious that a family is much more than a husband and wife. In reality it has no relationship with the identities of the family members but has everything to do with the values the family members share and their treatment of each other.
A good family – which serves as the basis of American society – needs to possess these qualities regardless of its member’s genders or sexual orientation. Conservatives, far too often, seem to miss this simple, yet significant point. The GOP’s focus should be on building strong family values, not on bashing gays. By developing initiatives that teach the worth of commitment, communication, and responsibility, conservatives will be able to strengthen the family unit and help Americans learn how more successfully engage their loved ones.
There are many gays who would and do accept such values as their own (some in much better fashions than their heterosexual counterparts); however, the insistence of the right on linking “family values” with anti-gay policies not only tarnishes the associated values but breeds a guilt-by-association phenomenon. As a result, the baby is tossed out with the bathwater, as many dismiss everything that is good with family values in favor of a hedonistic counterculture that is destructive to the American way. While such a libidinous lifestyle is often associated with homosexuality, this needn’t be the case. Such a life is built in the rejection of family values, not the sexuality of the individual (after all there are many heterosexuals who live a counterculture lifestyle and many homosexuals that don’t). Smart conservatives should focus on separating the issues of individual sexuality from family values.
While conservative intolerance towards gays certainly does not compel every homosexual into an alternative lifestyle, it does repel a large majority from a political party that would otherwise be a natural fit. These imprudent policies unnecessarily shrink the base and handicap Republican efforts at bring about meaningful policy changes. The GOP needs to drop its foolish and losing anti-homosexual policy stance and embrace the fundamental principle of liberty that is so appealing to America. This will not only draw those that are ideologically similar back into the fold but reaffirm the commitment to true individual liberty and family values.