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Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman rocked his party on Friday with his announcement that he has changed his mind about same-sex marriage, a startling reversal that Portman said was sparked by the revelation that his own son is gay.Portman’s shift has delighted pro-gay marriage groups on the right and the left, but some have argued that his deeply personal reflections on the issue did not go far enough in making the conservative argument for marriage equality.
That begs the question — what is the conservative case for gay marriage?
The most common argument is that marriage is generally a good thing for everybody. Like social conservatives, pro-gay Republicans argue that the institution of marriage strengthens families and communities and decreases the likelihood that an individual will turn to the government for assistance.
“We should want everyone to settle down, be monogamous, get married and be happy,” GOProud executive director Jimmy LaSalvia said at a CPAC panel here Thursday night. “Even gay people.”
Conservative political strategist and gay rights activist Margaret Hoover explained further:
“The reason I’m in favour of the freedom to marry is that we’re traditionalists,” she said Thursday. “We believe in marriage. We believe that marriage is a stabilizing force in our culture and our society. We believe that when two people make lifelong commitments to each other, that commitment is a stabilizing force in our communities and our cities. And we want to encourage more people to make those commitments to one another because our society is stronger because of it.”
“When people are married, they take care of each other, so the government doesn’t have to,” she added.
The other, more libertarian case for same-sex marriage argues that the government should just get out of the marriage business altogether. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul hinted at this line of reasoning in a recent briefing with reporters, in which he suggested that the federal government should stop recognising marriage, but that the government should enforce contracts entered into by consenting adults.
“I’m an old-fashioned traditionalist. I believe in the historic and religious definition of marriage,” Paul said. “That being said, I’m not for eliminating contracts between adults. I think there are ways to make the tax code more neutral, so it doesn’t mention marriage. Then we don’t have to redefine what marriage is; we just don’t have marriage in the tax code.”
But while most pro-gay Republicans — including Portman — believe that religious institutions have the right to decide whether to recognise same-sex marriages, neither of these arguments has passed muster with the GOP’s hardline social conservatives. For that group, the stabilizing benefits of marriage are only derived if marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman, and if those unions are legally recognised as “special.”
Christian conservative radio host Bryan Fischer made that clear in an email to evangelical leaders this week, slamming Paul’s gay marriage remarks and warning that any Republicans who appear to waver on the issue will lose the support of religious conservatives.
“His approach devalues the institution of marriage. It’s just another agreement, like the one Earl and Ray or Earlene and Raylene can get. There would be nothing special about marriage at all. This means, as we have seen in Scandinavian countries, that people stop getting married altogether. Children suffer. They grow up in unstable environments, with father or mother figures drifting in and out of their lives. To me, this is absolutely and totally unacceptable if we care about the wellbeing of children.”
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