This post may be the most difficult one I’ve written to date, because of the highly-charged nature of the topic I will discuss. I waited to publish it until after the polls closed on our local elections because I did not want anything said in this post to influence anyone’s campaign or anyone’s vote—one way or another (if there are run-offs, though, I hope what I say here will be considered). However, given some things that were said during the last few weeks of the campaign for municipal offices in Houston, I think some reflection from conservatives is in order.
Over the last days of the campaign I heard a radio ad for a local political activist who ran for Mayor of Houston in which he based his opposition to the incumbent on her promotion of “the gay agenda,” and in which a prominent Republican leader expressed his endorsement of that candidate (and, by inference, that candidate’s position); I saw a press release from an organization whose initial purpose (opposing Proposition 1 on the 2010 ballot) I supported, which contained unsubstantiated allegations that a long-time Republican activist running for a council seat, and one of his consultants, were gay; and I read a thoughtful piece posted by a local conservative blogger about how adults may be unwittingly abetting school bullying and suicides of gay teens by forcing an adult view of tolerance and acceptance (that even adults struggle with) into an immature and juvenile setting that simply can’t handle it. Given the results from this election, isn’t it time that we conservatives at least stop and think a little more about how we address this issue in the political realm?
To ask this question is not to embrace a “gay agenda,” legally or politically. Although a majority of the members of the U.S. Supreme Court someday may disagree with what I am about to say, a fair and objective reading of the Constitution and judicial precedents leads to the following conclusions at this time:
· Nothing in the language of the original text of the Constitution, or any amendment, requires creation or recognition of a “gay” marriage as a civil right, and the Court actually adopted this precise position about 40 years ago—at the apex of the era of expansive civil rights decisions from the Court—when it adopted the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision in Baker v. Nelson;
· States, like Texas, retain the power to establish or prohibit “gay” marriages or “civil unions” as a matter of public policy, either by legislation, or by state constitutional interpretation or amendment; and
· The federal government had the constitutional authority to recognize and protect those state public-policy choices through the enactment of DOMA.
Moreover, no matter from which perspective you address this issue as a conservative (i.e., political, religious, historical or philosophical), changing the definition of “marriage” through civil legislation, judicial opinion or constitutional amendment, to enlarge marriage into a relationship it was never meant to be, is troubling because of the unintended consequences that could flow from these actions in the future. The cavalier way that some have disregarded human experience and decisions from the dawn of time, and embraced this change in fundamental societal concepts and practices, is breathtaking.
But to say all of this about “gay marriage” or “the gay agenda” is to discuss a different issue than the one I am going to address now.
I believe we conservatives have reached a point in our rhetoric that we now are condemning the sinner rather than judging the sin—and we must stop this practice because it isn’t hurting anybody but us. I’ve been to a lot of political meetings, caucuses and conventions over the years, and I’ve had the privilege to meet and work with a lot of wonderful people; but, to my knowledge, I’ve never met a saint amongst us—we all are sinners, and we all have deviated from some norms that society views as important at some time in our lives. The humility that should come with this recognition, should give us some pause over what we are saying and doing to each other right now.
As I’ve said in other posts, our Settlers came here with the mission to establish a society that would meet the challenge from St. Paul, which he expressed in Galatians:
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty: only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
George Mason, with the help of James Madison, wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which was published a month before the Declaration of Independence, and which contained these passages:
…no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people, but by firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles…..the duty which we owe our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence;…and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.
John Adams, who served with Jefferson on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence, made this statement about the concept of equality addressed in that document, in a letter to Jefferson late in their lives:
…the golden rule is all the equality that can be supported or defended by reason or common sense.
And, Professor Alan Bloom wrote this observation about our American system in his landmark work, The Closing of the American Mind:
The United States is one of the highest and most extreme achievements of the rational quest for the good life according to nature. What makes its political structure possible is the use of the rational principles of natural right to found a people,….[o]r, to put it otherwise, the regime established here promised untrammeled freedom to reason—not to everything indiscriminately, but to reason, the essential freedom that justifies the other freedoms, and on the basis of which, and for the sake of which, much deviance is also tolerated.
Over the years, as I’ve struggled with the issue of how to address the open role of gays and lesbians in our party and our country, I keep coming back to the ultimate first principle from our Settlers and our Founders—to live by the Golden Rule, and to accept that the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were given to all of us, not just to some of us. To recognize this truth means that “much deviance is also tolerated” amongst our neighbors in order for our society to work and to flourish. If we truly want to conserve what our Settlers and Founders challenged us to preserve, we need to remember these points, and to adjust our rhetoric and our actions accordingly.
In practical terms, it means that we need to stop using the terms “gay,” “lesbian,” and “homosexual,” as rhetorical weapons, either against our Democratic opponents or against each other. Moreover, we need to recognize that there are men and women in our community who are both homosexual in their sexual orientation and conservative in their politics, who have held or currently hold positions within the GOP and who have been our party’s nominees for elected office. Rather than drive these people away from us, can’t we acknowledge their courage, examine their qualifications based on competence and character, and then, welcome them to join us in our effort to rebuild our society based on our fundamental principles?
To do so doesn’t require us to abandon our principles, or change our platforms, in order to pander to groups who promote issues we do not support; nor, does it require us personally to embrace every personal behavior we may view as a deviation from the norms our society has historically and religiously embraced. It most certainly doesn’t require us to turn a “blind eye” if our leaders attempt to change the character and principles of our community to promote all forms of deviations as new norms, for such actions do inform us about such persons’ competence and character for public office. But, if our principles truly are as universal as we say they are, then they should apply to, and our party should be open to, all our neighbors—from whatever community and background they come from—who share those principles and want them to succeed. Needless to say, some of the things that we said to each other, and to the public, during this last campaign did not meet this test.
Finally, let’s remember that our children are watching and listening to what we are doing and saying. They have been raised in a world that sees many of the ideas we hold dear as wrong, and we won’t get them to consider our ideas, let alone change their minds, with the type of rhetoric we are using—rhetoric that often seems at odds with those first principles we espouse. So, let’s heed Lincoln’s call to listen to the better angels of our nature, and to live by that Golden Rule that our Settlers and Founders believed was the glue that would hold us together.
If we do that, I believe we ultimately can build that Shining City on a Hill that Reagan envisioned—and, in the end, isn’t that our goal?