This election cycle we have seen Minnesota become ground zero for the battle over same-sex marriage. Our state has become the latest to be overrun with the rhetoric, the emotion and the division that this debate brings. I expect that many Minnesotans are tired of partisanship and dread the increase in the shouting match as the election approaches. It can be easy to get turned off by this debate for this reason, but on the other hand it is essential that we participate in it.
I am a moderate conservative, and I had been on the fence about same-sex marriage until recently. Being conservative to me means preserving those things that have been solid for generations: our values, traditions and responsibilities. I am a grassroots conservative in that I believe fundamentally in the family and the community as the building blocks of our society. I am a historian of the founding generation, and I voraciously study the original texts of our Founders for guidance as to how our country should better itself today.
Ironically, all of these core conservative beliefs are what led me recently to declare my support for including gays and lesbians in the definition of marriage.
America faces a crisis of fidelity. It is common knowledge that the divorce rate and never-married rate have exploded among adults in the past half-century. Many conservatives who trumpet family values rightfully find this concerning. It has led to more broken homes, harder lives for both single parents and their children and general apathy toward what used to be seen as social responsibility.
In response to this crisis and to the debate over same-sex marriage, syndicated New York Times columnist David Brooks, also a conservative, argued in a 2003 column that “the conservative course is not to banish gay people from making such commitments. It is to expect that they make such commitments. We shouldn’t just allow gay marriage. We should insist on gay marriage. We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity.”
Brooks lays his finger on it exactly. In an America where marriage has become more of a choice among several, equal options than the norm that it once was, conservatives should take every advantage they can to restore the institution to its place of importance. This debate is one such advantage. It conveniently happens that there are many of our fellow citizens who are in love with another person and want to have this life that we conservatives want to encourage. It baffles me that the very people who want to be seen as crusaders for marriage insist on leaving them out. Would they rally the troops to save an ill-devised and short-lived celebrity marriage and see children grow up in that environment? Or would they rather encourage a loving couple in a stable marriage to raise children? I do believe one of these scenarios is making our fidelity crisis worse, but it’s not the one that the pro-amendment crowd hopes to outlaw this fall.
This debate is about bigger, more universal issues than just the fidelity crisis and marriage equality though. It is about fundamental rights. By this, I do not mean the “right to marriage” that many supporters of gay rights rally behind. Human rights are sacred and undeniable; they go above and beyond rights laid out in written constitutions and, most importantly, inform the rights given to us through our democratic form of government. Marriage has always been an institution in this country, not a right, which has legal boundaries defined by the states. However, there are fundamental rights at play here, rights more important and intrinsic in human nature than a right to marriage.
Conservatives have nothing to fear and everything to gain from continuing the struggle for full implementation of these rights. The issue of marriage equality is an issue where conservative and liberal principles should come together perfectly. The liberal cause of equality has met the conservative cause of protecting and promoting marriage. Now is the time for us as conservatives to support expanding the institution, not in spite of but because of the values that we hold most dear.