A conservative changes his mind about state-sanctioned same-sex marriage

Terry Garlock's picture

The California Supreme Court two weeks ago overturned California’s voter-chosen ban on same-sex marriage. What could that possibly have to do with the HBO series “John Adams” I wrote about recently?

While many Californians scramble to repair the damage with a state constitutional amendment banning same_sex marriage, as a conservative I have a couple of observations. I warn readers that I will likely please no one with what I say, but I’m going to say it anyway with John Adams and his notions of freedom of speech and personal liberty fresh in mind.

I believe we’ve gone too far in America, requiring each other to toe the party line on what to think and say, with diminishing respect for individual thought, for differences of opinion.

My first observation as a conservative is my dismay at the growing pattern of activist judges in America, imposing their personal values instead of interpreting law, instead of respecting that creating law is the province of legislatures elected by the people.

The argument that judges adhere strictly to interpretation of legal points while suppressing their personal views, as they are supposed to do, is lost on me, proven false by countless examples of voting splits on appeals courts and supreme courts along ideological lines.

My second observation centers on how we conservatives treat the notion of gay and lesbian marriage.

I admit for all to see that I am repulsed by public displays of affection between two men, or two women, and those who would call me names like homophobe, as if I fear homosexuality, diminish themselves in my eyes. Same-sex pairs are instinctively unnatural to me. The mental image of a wedding ceremony joining two men who seal the bargain with a deep kiss makes me squirm.

But here’s the rub.

That wedding ceremony wouldn’t be about me or my personal quirks and discomforts. It would be about those two people who love each other and decided to publicly announce their permanent mutual commitment. Should my personal attitudes prevent them from doing that? Should my discomfort keep them legally unrelated even if they remain committed to each other for life?

Is my personal disquiet more important than their desire to be recognized as a family unit? If they are a permanent couple should my distaste withhold from a lifelong pair the same rights as family for hospital visitation, for consultation with doctors when one is ill and maybe even dying?

Is it right that we tell a committed lesbian couple they cannot marry, and at the same time tell them they cannot inherit from one another tax-free at the first death like a married couple because they are not married, that they must pay estate taxes that quickly climb to 50 percent?

I understand completely the very strong religious beliefs against same sex marriage, and a church has every right to preach what it believes and to promote or prohibit certain behaviors for its members. But we cannot, or at least should not, codify religious beliefs into law to be imposed on those who don’t share the belief. Being free of imposed religion is fundamental to our American liberty.

I know many other arguments against same-sex marriage because I have made them myself in the past. What about the extremes of the gay and lesbian lifestyle, promiscuity, unsavory public displays of drag queens and preying on the young and vulnerable?

I don’t want my kids or yours exposed to any of that, nor do I want them exposed to extremes on the heterosexual side like pedophiles, strip bars, sex clubs or just promiscuous people. I object to extreme sexual behavior in my community, whether homosexual or heterosexual.

But is it right to penalize a same-sex couple because we presumed them to be extreme and inappropriate in their public behavior when we make no such presumption about straight couples?

What if I had a new neighbor, a gay couple committed to each other and wanting to marry? Would explaining that to my children create some discomfort for me, unlike the rest of you who long ago drank the Kool-Aid of enlightenment and would never say these things I am writing?

I would undoubtedly squirm in discomfort explaining a homosexual couple and their marriage to my children, but life doesn’t guarantee my comfort, and as a matter of common decency, I should presume my same-sex neighbors to be good people. Why should my uneasiness trump their right to live where they choose, and together?

Finally, a social question. The commitment of marriage is a diminishing bedrock in our society, fewer are taking that legal step and the divorce rate is high. That makes the permanence of successful marriages even more valuable to our social fabric.

Wouldn’t gay and lesbian couples making a permanent legal commitment of marriage contribute to the family stability we so much value? Even though our conservative idea of a family is husband and wife and children, our notions don’t change the fact that gay and lesbian couples live together in commitment; marriage would make them a legal family.

As a conservative and Republican, I think my party’s opposition to same-sex marriage is misguided, though I came to that conclusion slowly, unwillingly, and with a lot of introspective thought about what is right and wrong.

Here is what I concluded.

It is conservative thinking, I believe, to keep the state out of the business of judging which adults may and may not make a marriage commitment to each other. It is conservative thinking, I believe, to value the liberty of same-sex couples choosing marriage as far more important than any personal disagreement with their lifestyle. It is also conservative thinking to recognize the contribution that would make to family stability in our society.

I may always be uneasy with homosexuality, no matter what names you call me. But I don’t think my discomfort gives me the right to limit the liberty of others.

The right thing is to let same-sex couples enjoy the legal benefits of marriage. That it is beneficial to society is a bonus, not to mention compassionate tolerance of those who are different.

But don’t think me a Democrat for these thoughts, even though I will vote in November for a moderate Democrat named John McCain.

I am a conservative, I am a Republican, and I will continue to think for myself.

[Terry Garlock lives in Peachtree City, Ga. His email is tgarlock@mindspring.com.]

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JeffC's picture
Submitted by JeffC on Wed, 05/28/2008 - 8:33am.

I hope they don't revoke your membership in the vast right-wing conspiracy.

zoes's picture
Submitted by zoes on Tue, 05/27/2008 - 9:21pm.

I agree that homosexuals should be allowed a union under the law and have the same rights as heterosexuals who are married. However, I do prefer the term 'union'. Marriage is ingrained in society as being in the eyes of God and very few religions openly accept homosexuality. To force the church, any church, any religion, to marry homosexual couples is where I say no. To allow homosexual couples the rights and priveleges of marriage (union) under the law, I don't have a problem.

Submitted by Sick of Fascists on Tue, 05/27/2008 - 7:53pm.

Finally, a conservative who isn't a hypocrit. I surely do not agree with all of your views, but on this one, we are totally square. You don't have to condone homosexuality to believe that the government has no business getting into a gay man's bedroom. You don't have to be a liberal to believe we all have equal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness...including marital bliss.

Main Stream's picture
Submitted by Main Stream on Tue, 05/27/2008 - 7:44pm.

Wow, Terry, I'm speechless. I hope other conservatives that feel the same way, have the courage to voice their opinion the way you did.

We have a family friend, who is gay, that has been in a committed and loving relationship with the same person for almost 20 years and we would be thrilled if she were allowed to get married and receive the same benefits as a married couple does.

Small steps towards change, will eventually turn the hope into a reality.

carbonunit52's picture
Submitted by carbonunit52 on Tue, 05/27/2008 - 5:05pm.

The right thing is to let same-sex couples enjoy the legal benefits of marriage. That it is beneficial to society is a bonus, not to mention compassionate tolerance of those who are different.

This is definitely what it is all about. Before we are conservatives, liberals, Republicans, Democrats, straight, gay, etcetera, we are all God's children.

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