The GOP and Social Conservatives
This is what I said almost a year ago:
Republican Christian conservatives, I suspect that your party as a whole will only care about you as long as you give it votes.
And this is what has happened, according to this morning’s New York Times:
Over the past four years, an increasing number of Republican leaders have argued that the party needs to embrace gay marriage, or risk losing younger, independent voters who polls suggest support it.
“It just makes the party look small and out of touch,” said Steve Schmidt, a Republican consultant who has warned that the party is hurting itself by being identified with opposition to gay rights. “Arizona has become an outlier state in which an extreme ring of the party is able to put forward legislation that damages the entire brand of the Republican Party.”
Just a few years ago, President Obama himself was not in favor of same-sex marriage. And let’s remember that it was a Democrat, Bill Clinton, who signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. And now Republican leaders (at least according to Adam Nagourney at the Times, who may have added some of his own wishes to the lens through which he gauges Republican sentiment) are publicly doubting whether the same-sex marriage battle is worth fighting.
This is a stunning and rapid victory, at least at elite levels of power, for gay activists. I sense they are experiencing the heady feeling of winning a distinctly moral crusade—and they are only picking up steam in our country. Their Arizona win (the reason for the Times article) won’t be the last. There are voices vainly, hoarsely, pointing out that the crusade for gay rights is not chapter 2 of the civil rights movement. But my feel is that those voices will continue to be shouted down until they become a whisper. The theological fiber of the country is too weak; it can’t stand up to an onslaught of freedom arguments. A conservative consultant quoted in the Times nailed it (discussing the Arizona bill in particular):
The issue was framed in the worst possible way for those people who are supporters of the bill…. It became about human rights and human dignity and not religious conscience. As soon as it shifted from a debate about religious conscience to a respect for human dignity, it was a loser.
Ryan T. Anderson, Ph.D. candidate at Princeton and former student of Robert George, is one of the country’s foremost conservative spokesmen on this issue. He, along with George (and another student of George’s, Sherif Girgis), have done the best natural law thinking available on this issue. And it is valuable. They point out that the whole reason government is involved in the marriage business—in sanctioning marriages, helping structure them, and incentivizing certain practices within them (like bearing children)—is that the state does bear a distinct interest in the health of the families undergirding it.
And that’s what I care about: the health of families. I care because, by God’s grace and in my best moments, I love my neighbor as myself. I’m not opposed to same-sex marriage because I’m grossed out by the sexual mechanics. I’m not opposed to same-sex marriage because homosexuals tend to be more politically liberal than I. I’m opposed because “sin is a reproach to any people,” because sin is the worst kind of self-harm (I say with sorrow for my own sins), because God knows best how to make human lives happy.
“You’re imposing your religion on me!” comes the response. (And, more serpentine, “Yea, hath God said that homosexual acts are sinful?”) I briefly entertained the possibility a few years ago that I ought to take a libertarian line on same-sex marriage: if this country is meant to be a place where people retain freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, how indeed can I impose my beliefs on others? A lot of complicated political and moral reasoning has been done on this question (here’s a good book, I’m told), but one big reason I made a decision not to go libertarian was what I said in the previous paragraph: I love people. My political opponents can call me a bigot and a theocrat (and they will and have), but I insist I’m neither. I love my enemies, as Jesus instructed, I deeply do. I want them to be loved into light.
The Republican party can give up on me; I gave up on it a long time ago—at least as a reliably moral force. But I won’t give up my love for my neighbor.