It may be the economy, stupid, but with Friday’s unanimous decision by Iowa’s Supreme Court to legalize gay marriage, talk this week may turn from businesses to families.
In 2008, I overheard a great deal of discussion among conservatives as to whether the Republican Party should give up on the abortion issue. On one side, some argued that the zealous pursuit of the pro-life agenda pushed otherwise fiscally conservative voters more to the left side of the political aisle. Others feel that the issue of life must not only remain uncompromised upon, but must remain the focus, even above more timely and more currently relevant issues such as the economy. Most, it seems, were able to agree that an adequate compromise has been made within the religious right, allowing for toned-down cultural language about unwed mothers and the like in favor of turning attention instead to preserving the lives of unborn children through pro-life services and adoption.
Now, I am not going to comment on either side (this particular piece isn’t the right place for that) but I nonetheless wanted to introduce it as a bridge to another central social issue that a great majority feel uncomfortable discussing — gay rights. And, even more specifically, gay marriage.
As the debate over Proposition 8 rages in California, and most recently as Iowa became the third such state to legally accommodate gay marriage, it has become apparent that the attitude towards the gay rights issue is beginning to mirror the attitude toward abortion. For example, just as conservatives who refuse to abandon their core principles with regard to abortion are depicted and dismissed as religious zealous, the inherent value of human life be damned, conservatives who refuse to budge with regard to gay marriage are painted as bigots and hate-mongers. Likewise, if conservatives sound negative about either abortion or gay rights, the argument goes, they are likely to lose voters. Besides, the logic continues, since sexual preference is a right, and conservatives are all about freedom, why even argue the point?
Such a perception ignores the hard truth that gay rights is a central, defining issue to the left, and to simply let is pass by is similar to putting one’s head in the sand. In order to understand the importance of this issue, it is best to begin with a look at classical Marxism as it existed in the early decades of the twentieth century.
Among other aspects of this complicated, multi-faceted system of beliefs, classic Marxism is rooted in the behavioral model of reward and punishment. Every human being is born as an empty vessel, which means the personality of the individual is determined by the substance that fills the vessel. Taken far enough, this meant the government could determine the behavior of every individual through training from birth, and can be connected with reasons why the political left in the 1960′s insisted that all problems could be solved through a change of environment — including proper speech, proper dress, and proper behavior. (If you want some quick amusement, took a look back at 1960′s unisex fashion.) This philosophy was not kind to the gay community. Take a serious look, for example, at how gays were treated in Cuba under the Castro/Leninist model; Marxists, see, did not want to create homosexuals for their totalitarian purposes. This is also why it is important not to jump too quickly on the “Obama is a Marxist” refrain with regard to every single issue.
The left became an advocate for gay rights as part of a a liberal religious tradition which began in the nineteenth century. Consider two great American writers, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, and you will see an American religious state of mind that does not emphasize sin and judgment but rather champions the individual. Such a perspective allows the traditional sacredness of marriage to be questioned and is apparent in liberal theology, which emphasizes “love” over judgment.
By the end of the twentieth century, there were numerous Protestant religious sects that felt it was the condemnation of homosexuality which was misguided and sinful rather than homosexuality itself, a perspective enhanced by some geneticists who held that homosexuality was determined by DNA, by nature rather than nurture. Fast forward to now, and this issue is considered by the left to be the single most important civil rights issue to the left, supposedly agreed upon by both biology and God — what an unbeatable combination!
On this issue, Conservatives must acknowledge two main points:
First, not all Christian sects are being condemned by the left for their views on gay rights. Only particular sects are under attack, chief among those the Evangelicals, closely associated by those on the left with the Republican Party which, of course, is the lead punching bag for the Democrats. Therefor, as go the Evangelicals, so goes the Republican Party.
Second, to a large degree the business sector of the Republican party agrees with the left on gay rights, a viewpoint motivated not so much by principles as by priority. The business community, after all, is worldwide in scope and, for the most part, frankly could care less if two men who are married to each other buy their products. To them, this issue is not the life and death issue that those on the religious right have tried to make it. Preachers in this country have depicted gay marriage as an attempt to destroy the fundamental fiber of the nation; those in the business community I associate with do not agree.
Therefore, the importance of gay rights for conservatives resides in the willingness of the religious and business sectors of the Republican party to reach a satisfying resolution. In the midst of an economic nightmare, this will not be easy. Since conservatives have never won the congress or presidency by big margins, a loss of even five percent of loyal voters could be very damaging. Right now, the business community wants to fight for the economic well being of the nation, and losing support for their economic plans by engaging in a fight over gay rights does not interest them. On the other hand, social conservatives must understand that the favorable balance of power necessary to advancing socially conservative values may only be able to be brought about by a focus on fiscal issues.
If the Republican Party cannot reclaim power, the future may not bode well for conservative social issues as long as the economy does not show adequate signs of recovery, as Democrats will be able to use any perceived crisis to advance an agenda diametrically opposed to that of the American conservative movement. Therefore, social conservatives cannot execute any influence without the transformative help given by their fiscal cousins. Acceptance of that idea, reliance upon conservatives’ abilities to spread the word, reminds me of what doctors tell family members when they are about to visit a dying relative.
“Don’t talk about things that don’t matter now,” the Doctor inevitably advises. “Stick to the necessities.”
The claim du jour, however, persists that all the bigots in the world are on the right, even though the struggle over gay rights has been a struggle within the leftist community as well. I knew many gay activists in the 1990′s who told me over coffee that the gay community had not decided whether it was better to remain separate from society but unharmed or fully integrate into society. Even they acknowledged there were members of the old, hardcore left that did not have much sympathy for the gay rights movement. A decade later, it appears full social integration is on the horizon. This is a triumph for liberal protestant theology, which has advocated full integration of gays into society and the church for decades.
Just as religious conservatives must place faith in American business and industry, the business community needs to stick with religious conservatives even if they feel the religious right is wrong on this particular issue. The liberal church, after all, is no friend to the conservative movement as a whole, and right now the business conservatives and religious conservatives need all the friends they can get.
Ronald Glenn has worked in real estate and law for more than twenty years. He now works in Philadelphia, and lives outside the city with his wife. Ron has been writing for America’s Right since January 2009.