Spotting a gay conservative is like seeing a unicorn; you’re breathless as you scrounge in your bag for a camera to capture this majestic site. But before you know it, they’ve galloped away.
In light of this, consider when a conservative politician like Jon Huntsman comes out in favor of gay marriage—is he doing this to appeal to his swarms of gay supporters? No. I don’t recall seeing a Huntsman float in the gay pride parade. How much political capital do Republicans stand to gain by supporting gay marriage? Not much, though maybe some on the left choose to hate them a little less. Infrequently can one know for sure if a Democrat really supports gay marriage or if they are trying to gain public appeal from their rainbow constituents.
Now consider how many Republicans have come out in favor of gay marriage. There’s Ohio Senator Rob Portman, former first lady Laura Bush, Meg Whitman, and Clint Eastwood. Then we have Colin “empowerment” Powell, Cindy ain’t-no-sin McCain, Arnold equality-or-eat-my Schwarzenegger, Michael give-them-their-blooming-rights Bloomberg, and of course Jon Huntsman and-marries-him.
Did I mention that all of these supporters came out of the traditional marriage closet before Hillary Clinton? Moreover, can you guess which Republican endorsed gay marriage before Barack Obama? Here’s a hint—he’s the first person to come to mind at the word “fabulous.” Dick Cheney.
Now, can you guess the political affiliation of the federal attorney currently arguing for marriage equality before the Supreme Court? As you might have guessed (the title is something of a give away) he’s a Republican. In fact, he’s an uber-Republican. Ted Olson was George W. Bush’s solicitor general, the founder of the Federalist society, and serves on the board of the American Spectator, a conservative magazine. He’s as Republican as genetically modified apple pie.
Ted Olson joins the ranks of a long and storied tradition of Republican enfranchisement. Many are aware that it was a Republican who freed and enfranchised the slaves. Few, however, know that Republican president Theodore Roosevelt was the first to endorse women’s suffrage while the Democrats stood in strong opposition. The first woman elected to congress was a rancher from Montana—yep, definitely a Republican. Finally, it was Republican Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger who first began the suit to repeal Prop 8.
The court may likely strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (signed into law by a well known Democrat, by the way), but this still means that gay marriage must be won state by state thereafter. If this is the case, proponents of marriage equality will need conservative help more than ever.
Oh sure, it’s all fun and games to make an elaborate portrait of Rick Santorum’s face out of a gay porn collage (Google with caution). But this is not going to change any minds and neither will protests, public displays of affection, or profile pictures. In fact, all of these things will marginalize, alienate, and galvanize the very people proponents of marriage equality should be talking to—those who oppose it. Talking is a good step but listening is paramount. It is important to understand why people do not support gay marriage. Who better to listen and understand than the very people who share their party affiliation? Conservatives know conservatives. This is why conservatives have led the most successful lawsuits in favor of marriage equality. We know whom we have to convince and we know how.
Conservatives believe in individuals and the equality of opportunity. Gay people should have equal opportunity for marriage and the freedom to screw it up just like 40 percent of straight couples. Freedom-loving conservatives are fully capable of sticking up for our guns, our God, and our gay people.
Those belonging to the “Christian Right” may also find reasons to condone gay marriage. To use the words of John Donne out of context, gay marriage is “not yet a breach, but an expansion” of the institution of marriage. It takes a rather pessimistic view of faith and humanity to think the integrity of marriage will not weather this expansion.
As many proponents of gay marriage are careful to point out, gaining the institution of marriage is winning the battle but not the war. Withholding certain legal privileges to gay people are but the trappings of intolerance. A fanatic can assault a woman’s girlfriend just as easily as a woman’s wife. Denial of gay marriage comes from a socially acceptable disapproval of homosexuality or disregard of homosexuality. Changing people’s minds about homosexual marriage is not as simple as overturning the law. For gay people to marry, five out of nine people have to be convinced. For gay people to feel welcome anywhere in the U.S., three-hundred million people have to be convinced.
Sarah R. Siskind ’14 is a government concentrator in Adams House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.