Sunday, January 10, 2010

Talking to a brick wall: Ted Olson and the "conservative case" for same-sex marriage

It is indeed extremely helpful that Ted Olson, a prominent conservative Republican legal figure, is a prominent supporter of same-sex marriage, and the "conservative case" he makes for it is indeed a strong one:

Many of my fellow conservatives have an almost knee-jerk hostility toward gay marriage. This does not make sense, because same-sex unions promote the values conservatives prize. Marriage is one of the basic building blocks of our neighborhoods and our nation. At its best, it is a stable bond between two individuals who work to create a loving household and a social and economic partnership. We encourage couples to marry because the commitments they make to one another provide benefits not only to themselves but also to their families and communities. Marriage requires thinking beyond one's own needs. It transforms two individuals into a union based on shared aspirations, and in doing so establishes a formal investment in the well-being of society. The fact that individuals who happen to be gay want to share in this vital social institution is evidence that conservative ideals enjoy widespread acceptance. Conservatives should celebrate this, rather than lament it.

Legalizing same-sex marriage would also be a recognition of basic American principles, and would represent the culmination of our nation's commitment to equal rights. It is, some have said, the last major civil-rights milestone yet to be surpassed in our two-century struggle to attain the goals we set for this nation at its formation.

This bedrock American principle of equality is central to the political and legal convictions of Republicans, Democrats, liberals, and conservatives alike.

But I much prefer the case based on human and civil rights irrespective of political ideology. (As the case he makes implies that liberals are against marriage, family, and community, or at least aren't nearly as committed to them as conservatives are.)

Conservative opposition to same-sex marriage, rooted in bigotry (what else?), is indeed deeply hypocritical given conservatives' admiration of the institution of marriage, but what Olson doesn't seem to understand, or at least to acknowledge, is that conservatism, or at least the dominant strains of contemporary conservatism, does not consider the "principle of equality" to be anything "bedrock" or "central." If it did -- if conservatives really were committed to "the revolutionary concept expressed in the Declaration of Independence" -- Olson wouldn't be such a rare exception among his own kind.

Olson has a leading voice on the right, but he's speaking rationally inside a hurricane of irrationality and about justice to a political movement that has embraced injustice as a driving force. I admire him for this, but I fear he'll get nowhere.

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