The Magazine

Marriage à la mode

The conservative case for gay marriage is not made here.

Aug 13, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 44 • By HELEN RITTELMEYER
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It may not be a foregone conclusion that gay marriage will one day be a legal fact in all 50 states, but an awful lot of people seem to think so. The Republicans in the “inevitability” camp—and there are plenty, especially in blue states—tend to tolerate their party’s supposed backwardness on the issue on the assumption that politicians live by the old Chicago maxim, “Don’t make no waves, don’t back no losers.” At the moment, endorsing gay marriage would make waves; that doesn’t mean the real players in the GOP don’t know which side of the argument will lose. That’s what most college-educated Republicans believe, anyway.

Rosie O’Donnell (right) and then-spouse Kelli O’Donnell, 2006

Rosie O’Donnell (right) and then-spouse Kelli O’Donnell, 2006

Newscom

This complacent self-assurance was given a jolt in May when Richard Grenell resigned from the Romney campaign after several socially conservative writers accused him of being a gay-rights fanatic (the word used in National Review was “unhinged”). Their case against him was shaky: Grenell is an openly gay man who has made pro-gay-marriage statements on Twitter, some of which were intemperate; but he is also a former member of John Bolton’s United Nations staff and was hired by Romney not to do gay outreach, but as a foreign-policy spokesman. The campaign asked Grenell to stay on, but he stood by his resignation. Moderate Republicans drew the obvious conclusion: Anti-gay activists wield more power over the GOP than they thought. These disillusioned moderates—who had assumed that everyone in the Acela corridor, at least, was on the same page—were forced to ask themselves whether the impression they’d gotten from their schooling, their peers, and network television wasn’t simply wrong.

It’s quite wrong, actually, on both counts: Gay-marriage opponents are not a weak fringe, and gay marriage is not an inevitability. In 40 years, when the issue has been thrashed out to a stable-enough conclusion, gay marriage might be the law of the land. Or it might just as easily be the law of only part of the land, with some states recognizing gay unions and others not, some companies extending benefits to gay partners and others not, and religious denominations sorted out along the spectrum between the Roman Catholic church and Wicca. This outcome would please no one, but it would do for a status quo. 

All of this is a long way of saying that the Republican party’s eventual position on gay marriage has not been predetermined by the forces of history. Circumstances may have already decreed that New York and Vermont will have gay marriage and, on the other hand, that Republican political operatives will judiciously hype the issue during campaigns as long as it gains them social-conservative votes. But when it comes to the question of how much actual support to give the anti-gay-marriage agenda, Republican lawmakers could, if they wanted, do whatever they think to be right. 

That’s the conversation that David Lampo wishes to join. The title of his book makes Lampo’s position obvious, even to readers who don’t know that he is a Log Cabin Republican who works for the Cato Institute. His place of employment gives a better clue to the contents than his sexual orientation; the text does carry a whiff of personal crusading, but the author’s crusade is for libertarianism. This makes for some tendentious reading, much of it familiar to anyone who has read a libertarian manifesto: an overlong section on the Founders’ religious skepticism, gratuitous swipes at “theocrats,” and repeated assurances that the American people are flocking to libertarianism in droves. These tics are irritating but largely extraneous, and there is plenty of content left after the nonlibertarian reader has thrown out the soapbox sermons. An author with a dubious thesis to flog will often write a good book regardless, and the rule for reading such a book is simple: Keep the data points, lose the trend line.

Alas, Lampo’s data points are not very good, either. His history of conservatism seems to have been written by someone who reads newspapers but not books. The GOProud controversy at CPAC 2010 is neatly described, but everything before 1990 is treated in the most simplistic terms. He does not seem to realize that there were confirmed bachelors present at the creation of the conservative movement, or that Florence King exists. He also chides socially conservative organizations for being “obsessed” with homosexuality while ignoring heterosexual threats to family values. That may well be how it seems to him, but the Christian right has hardly neglected problems like divorce and single motherhood. Focus on the Family, for example, does plenty of anti-divorce ministry; its marriage-counseling hotline is open 6 a.m. to
8 p.m. every weekday.