Theodore Olson has entered the fray over Virginia’s ban on gay marriage. Olson, a powerhouse Republican lawyer who helped keep Al Gore out of the White House, is joining forces with the ACLU (which is challenging the ban in a separate suit) and what those on the right like to call the “homosexual lobby.” This adds a big wrinkle to the standard left/right narrative, and raises a question: Is there a conservative case for gay marriage?
There certainly is a liberal one: Diversity is great, which means gay people are great – so if they want to marry, that’s great too! Besides, you’re not supposed to discriminate against anybody. (Except conservative Christians, because they’re so judgmental and icky.)
There is also a libertarian argument for gay marriage, which is equally straightforward: Short of actually shooting somebody in the face, individuals should be able to do pretty much whatever they want (except criticize the novels of Ayn Rand, no matter how hilariously bad her prose). If that means two burly lumberjacks get to pick out china patterns together – hey, go for it.
Most everyone also knows the conservative argument against gay marriage: God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Plus, look at these pictures from the San Francisco gay-pride parade we found on the Internet. Dude, are you seriously gonna stand up for those freaks?
Olson has. With Democratic lawyer David Boies, he successfully challenged California’s ban on gay marriage. In 2010, Olson penned a piece for Newsweek explaining his version of “The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage.” He pointed out that “same-sex unions promote the values conservatives prize” – such as commitment, stable families, and “thinking beyond one’s own needs.” Moreover, gay marriage follows from the “bedrock American principle of equality.” If you believe in the values of the Declaration and the Constitution, then you believe in equal rights, and “marriage is one of the most fundamental rights that we have as Americans.”
Those are good reasons. But they are not the only reasons conservatives might accept gay marriage. Here are five more.
(1) Gay marriage is good for “the institution of marriage.”
If you think marriage is a valuable cultural institution, and you worry about its decline in contemporary America, then you should welcome a reform that would shore up that institution against erosion. Just as the institution of banking is stronger with many participants rather than few, having more marriages rather than fewer is better for the institution of marriage.
Granted, you can push this argument too far. The institution of marriage would not be strengthened by “marriages” joining, say, cats and mice in holy matrimony. But those unions do not entail any intent to participate in the institution; cats and mice are not buying in to any set of values when people pretend to marry them off. When gay people seek to marry, however, they do intend to participate in marriage, and they do buy in to a (conservative) value set.
(2) Gay marriage fosters virtue.
Social conservatives believe sexual promiscuity is bad for the body and corrosive to the soul – that the sexual revolution’s encouragement of licentiousness has degraded social norms and debased our common virtue. If they are right about that, then allowing homosexuals to enter lifetime monogamy ought to be altogether desirable – just as it is desirable for heterosexuals, and for the same reasons.
(3) Gay marriage benefits children.
In his 2012 book A Fundamental Freedom: Why Republicans, Conservatives, and Libertarians Should Support Gay Rights, David Lampo notes that “over a quarter of a million children are living with same-sex couples.” Forbidding those couples to marry does not spirit their children away from them into the arms of straight couples (which likely would be awful for those children anyway). All it does, as the ACLU points out, is deny those children “the protection and stability of having parents who are married.”
But how do those children fare compared with children raised by straight couples? “There is no evidence that gay parents are any less effective or loving than heterosexual ones,” Lampo writes. In fact, some studies (such as one conducted by the University of Melbourne) show children raised by gay couples are better off by some measures (e.g., family cohesion) and no worse off in others (e.g., self-esteem). According to the Supreme Court, voluminous research indicates that children raised by gay or lesbian couples “are as likely as children raised by heterosexual parents to be healthy, successful and well-adjusted.”
(4) Banning gay marriage injects government where it doesn’t belong.