Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Is There a Place for Gay Conservatives ... Anywhere?

The Cato Institute today hosted an intriguing forum on the topic, "Is There a Place for Gay People in Conservatism and Conservative Politics?," which almost turned into a discussion of "Who is a conservative?" and, more specifically, whether one of the panelists had the right to call himself a conservative.

The opening remarks were given by Nick Herbert, MP, the British Conservative Party's Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, who was, he pointed out toward the end of the discussion, once identified in the caption of a newspaper photography as a "gay Eurosceptic."

Responses were provided by Andrew Sullivan, author of Virtually Normal and other books, who blogs for The Atlantic and whose conservative credentials were questioned more than once by both the moderator and members of the audience, and Maggie Gallagher, known best for her strident campaign against the rights of gay men and lesbians to marry and form families as president of a group with the Orwellian name, "National Organization for Marriage" (Orwellian because the group works actively against, not for, marriage).

The audience looked to be made up of mostly libertarians -- it was a Cato Institute event, after all -- and gay people.  I saw so many people I knew that, during the lunch that followed, I remarked to my friend Nigel Ashford of the Institute for Humane Studies that it "looked like one of [his] parties," which bring together libertarians and conservatives of all stripes.  The demographics of the audience became clear in their reactions to Maggie Gallagher, who pleaded over and over again that her anti-marriage activities were not meant to be an attack on gay people, a plea met with much skepticism.  (It's hard to judge whether the audience was more skeptical than she is naively self-deluded, or the other way around.)

Cato's executive vice president, David Boaz, opened the discussion by noting that "for the past 70 years or so, conservatives have opposed demands for equal rights from Jews, blacks, and gay people," only later -- once those folks eventually achieved equal treatment under the law --  to deny that they were ever against them in the first place, and then to "wonder why they don't get votes from those people."

Since blacks and Jews are no longer unwelcome by conservatives, Boaz pondered, will conservative attitudes "change once gay people have civil rights?"

In this question, he continued, British conservatives are ahead of us, and evidence of that included today's guest speaker, Nick Herbert, who was elected as an openly-gay Tory Member of Parliament in 2005 after he had led a successful campaign to keep Britain out of the Euro zone.  (A decision, Boaz wryly remarked, that must be looking better and better today.)

I will try not to repeat here much of what Herbert said in his formal remarks, since they are available in full on the Conservative Party web site (here for the news story, and here for the text of the speech).  Let me just excerpt his closing sentences and then go on to Sullivan's and Gallagher's responses:
So let us be clear about the kind of society we want to build.

One where a child can go to school without being bullied because of his or her sexuality.

Where people can be honest with their friends and families and employers, and not live a lie.

Where the terraces at football games do not ring with homophobic abuse.

Where a public declaration of lifelong commitment to another person can be made by anyone.

Where communities are safe and no-one is fearful because of who they are.

Where anyone can serve their country without being asked who it is they love.

Where no-one is held back and opportunity is available to all.

And where the Prime Minister of the UK or the President of the United States could just as easily be gay as black.
Andrew Sullivan began his remarks -- he spoke without notes, in a heartfelt and emotional manner -- by saying:
My breath is still taken away by Nick's speech. It feels like water in the desert. It feels like the truth.
The struggle for gay equality in this country has been difficult and emotional, Sullivan said, noting that the United States was ahead of the United Kingdom 20 years ago, though at that time gay conservatives were attacked by the gay left. "We were called 'homocons,'" he said, and "we were smeared."

Sullivan offered some distinctions between himself and Nick Herbert, placing himself "slightly to the right" and describing himself as a more of a Thatcherite than a "One Nation Tory." He noted, for example, that he is "an implacable foe of hate crime laws" because they are a threat to freedom of expression and freedom of thought.

He agreed, however, that there is no necessary connection between being gay and any particular set of political viewpoints. (This was a consensus among all three panelists.) Specifically, he said, "I see no connection between sexual orientation and a belief in limited government or a belief in a socialist state," adding that "I became a conservative because I grew up in a socialist country" and that he defined himself as a "Tory, not a Republican; an Oakeshottian, not a Straussian."

Sullivan went on to criticize the Republican party for accelerating its "campaign of fear" against gay people and said the GOP "is no longer a political party; it is a religious party [whose members] owe absolute obedience to the President." The Republican Party's "soul has been corrupted," Sullivan said solemnly.

Glancing over at Maggie Gallagher, Sullivan said that his arguments in favor of gay marriage -- which date to at least 1989, before the issue was on virtually anyone's radar screen -- "were never meant as an attack on the family." He spoke of the "psychic wound" that results from gay children growing up knowing that they would never be able to have the same kind of bonds as their parents or their brothers and sisters. This wound, he said, "distorts the psyche and warps the soul."

Sullivan did speak fondly and proudly of the way his own family -- his birth family and his in-laws -- participated in his and his husband's marriage ceremony, and how both of them have been accepted into each other's familial ambit, and how the joining of two families is an important social bond.

Summing up, Sullivan said, "We have struggled against the gay left and now the far Republican right, which is now the Republican party."

Introducing the next speaker, David Boaz quipped: "And now for something completely different," and that is indeed what we got in Maggie Gallagher's remarks.

She began by making the incredible, preposterous, and unsubstantiated claim that "there are openly gay people who work for my organization," the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage. She said she did not want to name them, however, and later -- when challenged by Sullivan -- she refused to name a single openly gay person who opposed equal marriage rights for gay men and lesbians. "You can't out an openly gay person," Sullivan said with exasperation during their later exchange.

Referring to Nick Herbert's opening description of how the political and legal landscape for gay people has changed in the United Kingdom, Gallagher said:
I don't know of many American conservatives who look at Great Britain and say "that is what we should look like."
In an acknowledgment of reality, Gallagher stated that "there have always been gay people in the conservative movement," and she noted that "a political movement is not a church, and there are no purity tests."

Yet, the question must be asked, she added: "How do we reconcile gay rights with large chunks of social conservatives" within the larger movement?

As she went on, Gallagher made an interesting distinction that, were she not so transparently unaware of what she was actually saying, would have been to her credit.

She said that "if gay rights are understood as liberty interests, they are compatible" with conservative values and the conservative movement. If they are understood as "equality interests," however, requiring aggressive government intervention to assure equality of results, they are not compatible.

What Gallagher misses, of course, is the fact that gay people should have the freedom to marry not just as a matter of equality, but as part of the liberty of association, the liberty of contract, the liberty to be left alone ... I could go on. Freedom to marry does not impinge on anyone else's rights -- no more than my right to watch Queer Eye for the Straight Guy does not affect someone else's right to watch Project Runway.

But I digress.

Gallagher added that "people are waking up to hear their core moral principles are the moral equivalent of racism" and, as a result, "people are scared."

She ended with a reiteration of her suggestion that "gay rights should be about liberty," and then Boaz opened up the floor for questions, first exercising his prerogative as moderator to pose one of his own.

Explaining that he had received "dozens" of emails making essentially the same point, Boaz asked Sullivan: "Can you be either a conservative or a classical liberal and still support President Obama's vast expansion of government?"

Miffed, Sullivan said "I refuse to answer that question as irrelevant to this topic... It's preposterous."

Since the full program may soon be available as a podcast, and is likely as well to be broadcast on C-SPAN, I will breeze through some of the next few exchanges.

There were questions about gay adoption and hate crime laws, then Jamie Kirchick of The New Republic asked, based on polling data that at least one-third of self-identified gay voters cast their ballots for McCain-Palin in 2008, should they fight for a place in the movement?

Sullivan replied: "I do not believe the conservative movement today has a place for a conservative like me."

The next question was posed by Jason Kuznicki, who has blogged about it himself earlier today:
There’s a built-in liberalness to gay politics, if not necessarily to gay people. Even conservative gay politics, in this sense, is liberal. Because all we have is the future. It’s the future, or nothing.

That “nothing” was on full display this afternoon, when I got to ask Maggie Gallagher the question I’ve always wanted to ask her: What do you think that am I supposed to do with my life?

Suppose I found myself in agreement with her. Suppose I concluded that same-sex marriage was corrosive to society. Do I leave my husband? Do I send my adopted daughter back to the state? Enter ex-gay therapy, which isn’t likely to work? Tell my whole family that I’m single now, and that Scott shouldn’t be welcome at family events? Live my whole life alone, and loveless? Hide? Where is the life I’m supposed to live?

I probably wasn’t so articulate at the Cato event, but I do recall Gallagher’s very simple answer: “I don’t know.”
The final question was about whether there is room for transgendered people in the conservative movement -- the "T" in "LGBT" or "GLBT" -- to which Gallagher replied, yes, as long as they are against gay marriage, and to which Sullivan replied, no, because conservatives think of transgendered individuals as engaging in "self-mutilation."

Nick Herbert was given the chance to offer a few closing words, replying to the last question by saying, "yes, the same principles apply" to transgendered people as to gay and lesbian people.

Herbert said "I look forward to the day when we're not having this debate but rather [having one] about the larger issues forced on Andrew" (I think he means issues like the definition of conservative, the proper role of government, the proper size and scope of government, etc.).  The issues before the panel today, he said, "should be beyond debate," adding that what people say about ourselves as political parties and as politicians, and the manner in which we can push people way casually is important.  What is most important, however, is that "we need to mount an appeal that is generous and optimistic and inclusive."

(I will be adding photographs from the event later tonight; I'm not at my own computer and this one lacks a port for my camera's memory card.)

Update:  Photos from above and left to right:  (1) Andrew Sullivan, David Boaz, Nick Herbert; (2) David Boaz, Andrew Sullivan, Nick Herbert; (3) Maggie Gallagher; and (4) Nick Herbert, MP.



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13 comments:

Dudeman said...

My Government 101 professor asked us to ponder the question, "should gays be free to marry?" He emphasized that the question was very different from asking if they should be "allowed" to marry. So if you look at it that way, it is very much a liberty issue.

James Young said...

Sorry, Rick, but I don't recall that any of the groups you identify ever asked to redefine the meaning of a word.

And "Dudeman," of course they're "free/allowed to marry": just like the rest of use, they're free/allowed to marry any member of the opposite sex who will have them. Your Government 101 professor asked a non-question.

Dudeman said...

James Young, if you were there you would have understood that we were to consider if gays should be free to marry EACH OTHER. Your gotcha response would've earned you an F.

Я -- R said...

What Gallagher misses, of course, is the fact that gay people should have the freedom to marry not just as a matter of equality, but as part of the liberty of association, the liberty of contract, the liberty to be left alone

Um, what kind of a libertarian are you? In all 50 states, two men or two women have the freedom to cohabitate, to own property together, to name each other as beneficiaries in wills, to obtain durable power of attorney for each other, to have a wedding ceremony at their local Unitarian Universalist church, AND to describe themselves as "a married couple" to friends, relatives, co-workers, and anyone within earshot.

Now, what we homos do NOT have in most states is the ability to obtain a gummint-issued certificate that wraps up various legal protection and financial benefits in one convenient package. But I'm not persuaded that the inconvenience of being unable to access a particular State-provided service really amounts to a "liberty" problem.

Я -- R said...

P.S. And don't get me started on the whiny California finooks who've persuaded themselves that the state's "everything but the word marriage" domestic partnership legislation is a travesty of justice that somehow makes them second-class citizens.

Dudeman said...

Virginians passed a Constitutional Amendment in 2006 that explicitly denies rights to ANY unmarried couple, even heterosexuals.

"This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage."

Я -- R said...

Virginians passed a Constitutional Amendment in 2006 that explicitly denies rights to ANY unmarried couple, even heterosexuals.

You don't need to tell ME that, as I happen to live in the Old Dominion. And I don't see what your point is -- the liberties of Virginia homos such as myself are not in peril, because the Amendment you refer to simply forbids the state to package a bunch of rights/benefits together to create something analogous to a one-man, one-woman legal marriage. Which is to say, no Domestic Partnership or Civil Union laws. But the rights/benefits remain accessible piecemeal.

Rick Sincere said...

What kind of libertarian am I?

Well, first, I am the kind of libertarian who uses my own name when discussing public policy issues, rather than one who hides behind an obscure alias.

Second, I am the kind of gay libertarian who does not use schoolyard taunts like "homo" to refer to myself, in some perverse, self-loathing celebration of the closet.

I thank Dudeman for beating me to the punch in pointing out the language of Virginia's constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage. The Virginia amendment is not unique; over 30 other states have incorporated similar language into their constitutions or statutory codes.

The Virginia Legal Review Committee, a group of practicing attorneys and legal scholars, noted in 2006 that:

"The Amendment does not simply prohibit formal legal unions like marriage and civil unions. Rather, it prohibits state and local governmental bodies, including the courts, from giving effect to any 'legal status' for relationships of unmarried persons that 'intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effects of marriage,' or that otherwise confers the 'rights, benefits, obligations, qualities or effects of marriage.' 'Legal status' is an extremely broad term, which has been defined as any combination of rights, duties, liabilities or other legal relations. Consequently, by its terms, the Amendment could prohibit the courts from 'recognizing' or giving legal effect to legal arrangements that provide to unmarried people rights, obligations or protections akin to those available through marriage."

In other words, private contracts may not be enforceable. There have been a number of cases in this country in which gay couples, despite having taken precautions such as granting each other power of attorney, have had their wishes ignored by the courts, particularly with regard to hospital visitation, disposition of human remains, and inheritance of real property.

Aside from the fact that privately-contracted relationships that (at best) nearly approximate marriage may not be enforced by the courts or respected by other individuals or institutions (including hostile family members, hospitals, schools, etc.), there is the question of equity.

Why must a gay couple hire an attorney and spend thousands of dollars to produce paperwork affirming their legal relationship when a straight couple can spend $35 and make a trip to the county clerk's office to get the same (but legally recognized) thing?

Equal treatment under the law is not a difficult concept to understand, especially for a libertarian. While in an ideal libertarian world, all marital or familial relationships might be privately contracted, in the real world, the government imposes an unfair burden on gay couples that it does not impose on opposite-sex couples.

Unequal treatment in the law by our government -- we are taxpayers and voters, after all -- is unconscionable and shameful.

BobN said...

"Sorry, Rick, but I don't recall that any of the groups you identify ever asked to redefine the meaning of a word."

How about VOTER? CITIZEN? HUMAN BEING?

Я -- R said...

How about VOTER? CITIZEN? HUMAN BEING?

BobN: +1
James Young: 0

Я -- R said...

Well, first, I am the kind of libertarian who uses my own name when discussing public policy issues, rather than one who hides behind an obscure alias.

I'm hardly hiding, since one click on the "obscure alias" takes you directly to my blogspot profile, which is nearly as detailed as yours.

Second, I am the kind of gay libertarian who does not use schoolyard taunts like "homo" to refer to myself, in some perverse, self-loathing celebration of the closet.

Sir, I would never be so impertinent as to suggest that you must be self-loathing and possibly closeted, just because you describe yourself with a word that happens to be a schoolyard taunt -- namely, "gay." Could you not show me the same courtesy? Anyway, I've always thought that "homo" sounds less ridiculous than "gay" does, so it's the word I self-label with. (And I've been happily out of the closet since my fourth year at UVa in 1993 -- Wahoo-wa!)

With those points out of the way...

The Virginia Legal Review Committee, a group of practicing attorneys and legal scholars, noted in 2006 that:

"...the Amendment could prohibit the courts from 'recognizing' or giving legal effect to legal arrangements that provide to unmarried people rights, obligations or protections akin to those available through marriage."

In other words, private contracts may not be enforceable.


As I discovered from 90 seconds of Googling, the "Virginia Legal Review Committee" is/was an ad hoc group formed entirely for the purpose of opposing the Amendment. So, quite naturally they're going to come up with scary hypotheticals about contracts between unmarried persons becoming unenforceable. But the VA Attorney General's office responded with this rebuttal of the claims brought up by the VLRC.

Why must a gay couple hire an attorney and spend thousands of dollars to produce paperwork affirming their legal relationship

They don't actually HAVE to spend thousands of dollars, or hire an attorney at all -- though, granted, the separate filing fees for the individual forms are easily going to add up to being several times more expensive than a $40 marriage license. So on this point, I would completely agree that there's a lack of equity and that we're not getting our basic entitlements as taxpayers. Again, though, I don't see this as a "liberty" issue, and I think it's crucially important to avoid overstating our case, because there are plenty of Maggie Gallaghers in the world who are eager to find any flaw they can in our arguments.

BobN said...

R--R

Thanks for the like to the "rebuttal". As an opinion, even from the AG, it is not definitive proof, of course. It does appear to answer the charge but it leaves one wondering why the language was inserted in the first place, if it truly has no legal effect whatsoever.

Me? I'll wait and see how a court decides when a case comes before it, especially one in which a hostile family challenges probate.

Anonymous said...

Having just signed some of these piecemail documents, I would point out that at $350 an hour plus filing fees, these piecemail efforts at approximating some of the advantages and responsibilities of marriage are expensive.

And as for doing it myself versus having an attorney--since the courts might or might not uphold documents, and any individual might or might not give authority to a document quickly, it is worth it to hire an attorney. If I do the forms myself and something is wrong or even simply not spelled out at length, I will only find out when it is too late to do anything about it. That is a high price indeed.