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Posted by on Apr 18, 2009 in Politics, Society | 16 comments

Gay Marriage, the GOP and Political Courage

Steve Schmidt, the former campaign manager for John McCain’s presidential campaign has been making news today for saying that it is time for conservatives to back same sex marriage. In a speech to the national convention of the Log Cabin Republicans he makes a conservative case for gay marriage:

“There is a sound conservative argument to be made for same-sex marriage…I believe conservatives, more than liberals, insist that rights come with responsibilities. No other exercise of one’s liberty comes with greater responsibilities than marriage. In a marriage, two people are completely responsible to and for each other…”

…If you are not willing to accept and faithfully discharge those responsibilities, you shouldn’t enter the state of matrimony, and it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference if you’re straight or gay. It is a responsibility like no other, which can and should make marriage an association between two human beings more fulfilling than any other.”

He makes a pretty sound argument based on the conservative belief in responsibility. Marriage is in the end about being responsible. You stop simply living for yourself and live for that other person. When they hurt, you hurt. When they are happy, so are you.

Schmidt understands that a younger generation, personified by Meghan McCain, is much more accepting of gays and doesn’t understand what all the big deal is. Younger voters will be turned off by what they see as intolerance.

While appreciating the argument put forth by Schmidt, political writer Marc Ambinder doesn’t think that the GOP survive without social conservatives. He writes:

I know that there are many Republicans who support gay rights, and that most members of the Republican elite are pro-gay, and that the business wing of the party could care less about the issue. I know that suburbanites are turned off by conservative intolerance of homosexuality and gay rights. I know that younger Republicans tend to be pro-gay and are alienated from the rest of the party. But I also know that the possibility that the Republican coalition will find some way to organize itself without social conservatives is a ways of a way off. Schmidt’s concerns may be valid, but urging the GOP top adopt a tolerance platform WITHOUT figuring out how to declamp itself from the social conservative hook — that’s not terribly realistic. That’s why so many Republican strategists, even as they’re sympathetic to gay rights (and virtually ALL of them are), don’t advise their clients to so much as acknowledge the dignity of gay people.

If one were to look at this with the steely eye of politics, this might make sense. And I don’t doubt that the GOP would lose votes in taking a step towards gay equality.

But as a gay man who is a Republican and who is partnered, this isn’t an issue that is that far away from me. It IS me. It is my issue. It has been said that when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, he said that the Deomcratic Party would lose the South for a generation. He was right. The segregationist wing of the party basically walked out and became Republicans.

Of course, we know what the upside was. African Americans were allowed greater freedoms and, well all you have to do is go to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to see some of the results.

The other thing is that while the Democrats did lose a substantial voting bloc, they also picked up other voting blocs to become the party they are today.

The Republican Party faces a hard choice. If the party does become more tolerant of gays, then they will lose a substantial voting bloc. But they could also gain new voters, especially young voters who would normally vote Republican but don’t because they are so intolerant of gays.

Ambinder refuses to dream. He refuses to see that things can change. Yes, for the GOP to make such a leap would be a big risk. Courage to do the right thing always comes with a cost. But there is a payoff down the road. One wonders what would have happened had LBJ not sign landmark civil rights legislation because he was worried about losing votes in the South.

Ambinder forgets that the status quo is killing the party NOW. Republicans are already losing votes. So, either way we lose votes, but I can say that what we gain by standing for gay equality is far more valuable than what we lose.