It seems that every day at Swarthmore some new issue is being brought to light by a student group and within days that issue is the talk of Sharples. Right now, the Supreme Court’s debate of California’s Proposition 9 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) are being argued over the waffle maker and the salad bar. Unfortunately, all too often these discussions focus on the opposition of extreme religious right to same sex marriage and the members of the Republican party who are part of that cause. Phrases like “Conservatives are bigots” or “What can you expect from Republicans?” are inevitably thrown around, in ways that if the same stereotypes were used against another group there would be protests and outcry.
I find this especially troubling as a conservative and a registered Republican. Yes, there are many prominent Republicans who oppose same sex marriage — but not for what I would call conservative reasons. That’s because the institution of same-sex marriage is a very conservative idea.
First let me make an important distinction. The idea that all humans are created equal and are entitled to their fundamental rights belongs to no party. These ideas are not liberal or conservative, Republican or Democratic. However, from a purely political point of view, Republicans should be the party of gay marriage.
A fundamental aspect of being a conservative is the idea that a government that does less, costs less, and interferes less in our daily lives is better than a big, expensive and intrusive government. I subscribe to the this view, thus it seems ridiculous to me that some Republicans protest government intervention in the economy, private business, firearms possession, and airports, but in perhaps the most personal of all legal institutions, marriage, defend the government’s right to decide who can and cannot marry. If there is one place where we shouldn’t want government intervention, it should be in our bedrooms. While many Republicans would disagree with this interpretation, no true conservative should argue with this idea.
In his book Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America, Jonathan Rauch argues that marriage equality can be society’s way of saying to homosexual couples, “Thank goodness you’ve formed a family,” meaning that if the GOP is really the party of family values, it should support the formation of real families. It seems absurd that true conservatives would think that a partnership with really no legal responsibilities is better for society than a real and equal marriage. Furthermore, if we seriously concerned about kids being raised by gay couples, actually recognizing children’s parents as legally married would be much more beneficial than giving kids some vague explanation of how their parents are partners. As Rauch says, “Marriage now can be unique because it is the gold standard for commitment.”
There can be no greater champion of marriage equality than former Solicitor General Ted Olson, who argued against Prop 9 before the Supreme Court. There can also be no greater card-carrying conservative: Before serving in the Bush Administration, Olson championed, sponsored and wrote about many conservative causes – most notably representing then presidential candidate George W. Bush in Bush v. Gore . He is Exhibit A of a Republican who supports same-sex marriage, and is leading his own party to change its views. Swarthmore students can help expedite this change as well. If, when talking about same sex marriage, people stop lumping all conservatives in with the nuts on the far right – if Democratic students can open their minds, drop their prejudices and begin to understand that someone who is “socially conservative” isn’t someone who automatically opposes, we might make a lot of progress on the issue.