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    February 17, 2010

    No place for gays at this table

    Posted by: Chris

    UPDATE: At the end of the post.

    Conservatives are always right
    As expected, there was no shortage of fireworks today at the Cato Institute forum on whether there's a place for gays in the conservative movement, especially between Andrew Sullivan and Maggie Gallagher, the conservative columnist and marriage equality foe. But more on that later...

    The pleasant surprise of the event was Conservative M.P. Nick Herbert, who is openly gay, civil-partnered and will likely be in David Cameron's cabinet if the Tories as expected win the upcoming U.K. election. But more on that later…

    Ironically enough for a panel about whether the conservative movement is excluding gays, apparently some gays wanted to exclude Sullivan from the panel for failing to be sufficiently conservative, or so said David Boaz of the Cato Institute, who handed out the invitations. Asked by Boaz to defend his conservative credentials, Sully took umbrage, arguing it was irrelevant to the topic.

    At one level he's right, of course, but maybe there is a connection. I am thinking of my own political journey, and how the treatment of gay rights and homosexuality in conservative circles has naturally affected my willingness to listen to the arguments made by those same conservatives or their in any number of other areas, even unrelated to gay rights or social issues generally. Just consider my presidential preferences over the years:

    1980: Reagan
    1984: Reagan
    1988: Bush
    1992: Bush
    *1992-93: I came out*
    1996: Clinton
    2000: Gore
    2004: Kerry
    2008: Obama

    I held my nose for a couple of those votes, particularly in '96 and (especially) '04, but from the time I came to grips with being gay, my sexual orientation has become a political bellwether, and not because my views on the many other issues of the day have changed so dramatically.

    We live in a country with two major political parties, and most elections come down to a choice between them. You wouldn't know it if you turn on FOX News or MSNBC, but the differences between these center-left and center-right institutions is not so great for me to hand my vote over to the party that fights against my civil rights. As Andrew pointed out today, never was that more true than when President Bush and the GOP tried to amend the Constitution to prevent gays from marrying. With that backdrop, I am willing to continue holding my nose 9 times out of 10 and vote my equality as a single issue, at least until such time as basic equality has been achieved.

    Beyond the power politics of it, I also cannot help but judge the conservative movement by its followers, not to mention its leaders, and to conclude there is something fundamentally wrong with their philosophy, their judgment, and their movement if they are so committed to opposing my equality, or cynically ally with those who are.

    It is an inescapable indictment of the conservative philosophy or temperament that so many who are so wrong on our issues find a home in that movement and ascend to power within it. David Boaz was dead-on to call conservatives out for being on the wrong side of pretty much every civil rights movement in U.S. history, only embracing the principle of equality and justice after the dust settles in that particular battle.

    I would add to Boaz's criticism the plethora of a la carte conservatives, or what I think of as single-exception conservatives: people like Nancy Reagan or Dick Cheney, who suddenly find themselves receptive to stem cell research or same-sex marriage, respectively, when the issue hits close to home. How can they part ways with their usual allies to protect those they love without ever examining whether the conservative philosophy that led their allies to oppose them this time around might be doing similar harm to other families on other important issues?

    If I am honest with myself, I must ask the tough question: If I weren't gay, or if conservatives hadn't been so hostile to gay rights and gay relationships, would I still be the fire-breathing conservative I was in my youth?

    I often think of conservatives as those for whom the traditional system works, and liberals as a collection of those for whom it hasn't and others who empathize for them -- or find cause in allying with them. Being gay, I am profoundly affected by how conservatives have rejected what I see as a simple call for equality under the law. That painful experience leaves me much more open to similar claims by other groups, be they racial or ethnic minorities, the economically disadvantaged, the unemployed, the transgendered, immigrants, and so on.

    How could I not be?

    UPDATE: Video of the forum is now available here or view it after the jump to this post.

    Video of the Cato Institute policy forum on whether there's a place for gays in the conservative movement, featuring David Boaz of Cato, Tory MP Nick Herbert, gay blogger Andrew Sullivan of Atlantic Monthly, and conservative columnist Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage:



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    1. Zil on Feb 18, 2010 9:15:41 AM:

      I've been openly bisexual ("functionally gay") for the past nine and a half years now (I came out when I was 14). I'm still on the conservative end of things because, well, there are other issues that are bigger to me than marriage equality (and, if you think about it, how many of those Democratic candidates are still against same-sex marriage?). I find it just as problematic to hear about some people (not you, obviously) who blindly go to a candidate who is a Democrat simply because the Democratic Party is seen as being the one not searching to stop the expansion of rights for same-sex couples.

      When same-sex marriage was voted down in the New York state legislature, several of my friends were downtrodden because they "lost" a significant portion of the Democrats who had voting power. Same-sex marriage, to some extent, isn't a party issue--it's a values issue. And there are some people who share morals on both sides of the fence.

      Sometimes I feel people would vote very differently if they looked at the candidates' stances on certain issues instead of their assumed party values.

    1. Joe on Feb 18, 2010 2:45:09 PM:

      Although there will be exceptions to this generalization, I've thought of the differences between conservatives and liberals as those who embrace hierarchy as opposed to those who embrace equality.

      The conservative movement has resisted all attempts to equalize society: whether it be union support, racism, sexism, or gay hostility, conservatives tend to like a system where some are superior and the masses are inferior. Conservatives dress it up in different ideas: traditionalism, fairness, etc, but the overall position always comes to a resistance to equality.

      For me, Sullivan is no different than a Reagan or Bush. If you support hierarchy, how can an appeal to gay rights have any credibility. If you support a hierarchical system how does one justify equal treatment for all. It is an absurd hypocrisy, which is why I could care less about Sullivan. For me, he's the same enemy as is Maggie G (a person I destest thoroughly).


    1. Amicus on Feb 19, 2010 9:55:43 AM:

      I confess that I'm a sucker for personal stories like this. Thanks, Chris.

      It is fascinating to me how people change, when they get out into the world, when they get meaningful exposure to other cultures, when their received belief-system is put at risk or challenged. As one can guess, some people revolt and withdraw and some develop a whole new understanding and openness.

      The truth is that, for most of us, our gayness has forced us outside of ourselves. It's certainly brought me into contact, acquaintance, and friendship with all kinds of people I'd never have met otherwise. I always consider that one of the great positive aspects of the gay experience, as it was.

    1. Dave on Feb 19, 2010 12:51:33 PM:

      Amen! When I was growing up, I read National Review with my brother and joyful considered myself a free-market conservative. Then in college, I came out. In the five years since then, I've found myself drifting further away from the banner of conservatism (certainly not to what I'd call liberalism, but in that direction). How can you agree with a group of people who, broadly and generally, think you deserve less rights than they do?

      I doubt the conservative movement is gonna wake up anytime soon, and until they do, they'll keep loosing people like me.

    1. BobN on Feb 19, 2010 1:22:27 PM:

      It strikes me that there are two things gay conservatives should reflect upon. One, as Chris has explained, is how can you support a party that so deeply opposes your right to live your life as an equal citizen. Some explain this by noting that they are not "one issue" voters, that being gay is not "all they are". I accept that explanation and, in fact, would support the theory that one should vote for the greater good even if it harms one (I know, silly liberal me). So, if you feel the nation is at risk, yada, yada, yada, then by all means support the party that says it holds the solutions.

      But this brings me to the second point of reflection. If you're gay and you listen to the awful things "conservative" leaders say about us -- the lies, the distortions, the prejudices, the vile accusations -- the views that form the party's understanding and presentation of gay-rights issues and you KNOW how dishonest and manipulative and cynical those views are, how can you believe anything they say about any issue?

      P.S. This, of course, applies to "conservative" Democrats as well.

    1. cheap ugg boots on Nov 22, 2010 2:48:38 AM:

      I don't have the heart to argue. We will be yellow butterflies, then.

      Once more into the breach!

    1. cheap ugg boots on Nov 29, 2010 1:11:27 AM:

      I'm persuaded by our courtroom arguments that gays and lesbians do not have political power. Therefore, arguing whether we should be butterflies with blue wings or yellow wings (see above) seems a point in aesthetics. Since I like aesthetics, I participate.

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