Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale


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Sunshine & Rainbows: Marco Rubio & LGBT Issues

“I believe that marriage is not just a bond but a sacred bond between a man and a woman. I have had occasion in my life to defend marriage, to stand up for marriage, to believe in the hard work and challenge of marriage. So I [am] committed to the sanctity of marriage, [to] the fundamental bedrock principle that exists between a man and a woman, going back into the mists of history as one of the founding, foundational institutions of history and humanity and civilization, and that its primary, principal role during those millennia has been the raising and socializing of children for the society into which they are to become adults.” –Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY)

“I do not support anti-discrimination laws for Bushes and Clintons.”

We all stand, whether conscientiously or insouciantly, at the delirious crossroads of competing obligations, values, and desires. For politicians, in particular, the road threading the needles of the constituent elements of a broader electoral coalition can be a herculean task at the best of times. When volatile issues like marriage policy, protected status for elucidated groups, and religious freedom concerns are the issues of the day, finding a simulacrum of compromise that can please—or displease—enough people in the right ways to win at the ballot box and in the legislative chambers becomes a Sisyphean ordeal that would perhaps evoke more sympathy were the people involved not, as politicians are, powerful and duplicitous.

Somewhere along the Sisyphean route, my home-state Senator and declared presidential candidate Marco Rubio has gained a cascade of (mostly favorable) attention for his encouraging approach to issues that affect the lives and livelihoods of gay Americans. Since announcing his campaign for the Republican nomination, the Floridian made headlines for affirming his willingness to attend a same-sex wedding and his understanding that being gay is not a choice. While these are certainly small steps, they are nonetheless welcome.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Marco Rubio remains as personally opposed to same-sex marriage as Hillary Clinton passionately was until she changed her mind in 2013—a process most Americans have experienced and millions are still undergoing. On a policy level, Rubio retains the states-rights view of marriage that Hillary Clinton championed right up until a week ago. If that is a single-issue deal-breaker—or if you’re an unrepentant liberal—there is little more to say, though I appreciate your reading these words anyway.

However, for genuinely independent, persuadable voters and right-leaning folks who support gay rights, Sen. Rubio is demonstrably among the most appealing candidates in the field of 2016. This development is probably not too surprising for those who have been paying attention to the Miami-native’s approach to LGBT issues, as Rubio has been working to understand and include gay Americans and their political allies for some time now.

According to Gregory Angelo, Executive Director of the Log Cabin Republicans, Rubio’s Senate staff has held regular quarterly meetings with the pro-gay conservative group. (Though I am a member of Log Cabin, I haven’t met with Rubio staffers in that capacity.) Back in January, the junior Senator from Florida stated that he would not contest a Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage rights. He’s made true on those remarks by declining to endorse Ted Cruz’s proposal to restrict marriage rights currently available through court order to same-sex couples, as well as refusing to sign—to the enduring umbrage of Maggie Gallagher—a recent amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to enact a ruling to that effect. (Full disclosure: my boyfriend, several friends, colleagues, and I are signatories to the opposing brief in the same case.)

While Rubio’s position is by no means an endorsement of the Supreme Court recognizing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage—which new position Hillary discovered, through a spokesman and with appreciably less brio than her original opposition, three days after her second presidential announcement—there is no daylight between how the executive branch would engage such a ruling under a President Rubio vs. a President Clinton.

Of course, gay rights concerns extend beyond marriage policy, and so does Rubio’s record of public remarks. In summer 2014, the devout Catholic gave a speech on marriage policy and judicial rulings at Catholic University where he acknowledged that multiple levels and institutions of government have discriminated horrifically against gay Americans.

I’ll let Sen. Rubio speak for himself:

“We should acknowledge that our history is marred by discrimination against gays and lesbians. There was once a time when the federal government not only banned the hiring of gay employees, it required private contractors to identify and fire them. Some laws prohibited gays from being served in bars and restaurants. And many cities carried out law enforcement efforts targeting gay Americans.

Fortunately, we have come a long way since then. But many committed gay and lesbian couples feel humiliated by the law’s failure to recognize their relationship as a marriage. And supporters of same sex marriage argue that laws banning same sex marriage are discrimination.

I respect their arguments. And I would concede that they pose a legitimate question for lawmakers and for society.”

It would have been easy enough for a Republican presidential hopeful to elide or gloss over our country’s sordid history of anti-gay persecution. After all, most Americans are unaware of terrors like the McCarthy-era Lavender Scare—in which the federal government systemically hunted and purged gay civil servants and proscribed their employment until the 1990s—or not-that-long-ago prohibitions on serving gay customers in public bars, as was the law in places like New York City. Likewise, many people believe, erroneously, that national anti-discrimination laws already protect people from being fired for being gay. (In fact, 29 states lack such protections.) Yet, without prodding, Sen. Rubio spoke a difficult truth that showed, among other things, that he listens to and cares about the diverse array of voters he represents and aspires to serve.

When he revisited the issue in the wake of the RFRA battle in Indiana, Rubio reaffirmed his commitment to religious liberty (though he did not, as some parties lazily suggested, endorse either version of the Indiana law) and declared unequivocally that the laws of this country should not sanction anti-gay discrimination—putting him squarely in sync with most Americans. To quote him again:

“No one here is saying it should be legal to deny someone services at a hotel or at a restaurant because of their sexual orientation. I think that is a consensus view in America.”

People can disagree about whether conservative Muslims and Christians should be forced to violate their religious beliefs by participating in same-sex weddings. But I would ask those who would dismiss Rubio’s sympathies for business owners’ rights of conscience regarding same-sex weddings to elucidate the coherent principle by which they would allow gays, Jews, African Americans, or anybody decent from compulsory service to events of the Westboro Baptist Church or KKK (both of which, it’s worth noting, purport to be religious organizations). To paraphrase a friend: our rights and freedoms are defined by the edge cases that make us uncomfortable, not the easy-seeming ones that require sacrifice only from our sociopolitical opponents.

While he’s not a perfect candidate, the growing sentiment of tolerance and inclusiveness underlying Rubio’s campaign suggest a realistic foundation for how the Republican Party can move beyond the divisive decades of the matrimonial culture wars. Perhaps his broader aura of constructive, forward-looking optimism will help Rubio sublimate his post-announcement bounce in the polls into an indomitable campaign for the nomination and the White House. Who knows? We’re still several seasons away from the primaries, and politics is a fickle game.

But if you’re one of those many almost-Republicans who have long been alienated by the GOP’s mean-spirited past on gay issues, candidates like Marco Rubio might have a whole new world of political opportunity to offer. Either way, at least we can all agree that same-sex marriages probably aren’t killing babies, whether or not Rick Perry ever figures out if he would attend a wedding.

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A Faith in Rainbows

“There can be no covenants between men and lions, wolves and lambs can never be of one mind, but hate each other out and out an through. Therefore there can be no understanding between you and me, nor may there be any covenants between us, till one or other shall fall.” –Homer

Said Hector to Achilles—& a lot of Greeks and Trojans to a lot of other Greeks and Trojans (c.f. The Oresteia).

In a way, the culture war (or what’s left of it) over recent state permutations of the federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) is the latest instantiation of America’s ever rising sociopolitical polarization. A cursory look at the divergent media coverage shows the predictable degree to which some partisans of either side dismiss the rhetoric of their opponents as symptoms of debilitating paramnesia. Liberals think the most recent incarnation of RFRA in several red states is carefully tailored to allow discrimination. RFRA’s defenders counter that the altered provisions in Indiana would not trump anti-discrimination laws, as such a thing has never happened.

As in many things, it seems people of different views are increasingly living in different worlds.

Yet it seems we are crashing upon the last shores of the tide of gay rights in America. After all, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson cited his son’s opposition in deciding to renounce support for an Indiana-style RFRA bill in Mike Huckabee’s old stomping grounds—and the red-state Republican even went so far as to openly ponder signing an anti-discrimination order for state workers.

Among Republican presidential hopefuls’ varying levels of support for the new RFRA’s stated intentions, I was most encouraged to see my home-state Senator Marco Rubio explicitly affirming the mainstream view in favor of anti-discrimination laws for gay people while supporting religious liberty. Refreshingly, Rubio’s statement follows naturally from his prior acknowledgement, in a speech at Catholic University, that federal and local governments once required anti-gay discrimination under color of law of. In this way, his statements are probably the closest to the truth of things of any candidate on either side of the aisle.

As the Indianapolis Star (which endorsed Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s 2012 election) prominently argued, our laws can protect both LGBT and religious people (an overlapping set) with versions of RFRA that explicitly complement anti-discrimination laws. Such harmony exists already in several states, including the bastion of cultural conservatism that is Utah—a state so dominated by Mormonism that it mandates beer be watered down and cocktails be prepared behind “curtains” of modesty lest righteous teetotalers be tempted through sinful spirits.

Like many gay rights proponents from left to far right, my friend Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans (and a Christian), expressed skepticism that Pence and the Indiana legislature will avoid substantive gay rights measures and aggravate all sides with half-measures. Other friends, like guest poster Lyman Stone, share an opposite concern with several other religious conservatives and sympathetic voices: that the Left’s abnegation of the original federal RFRA indicates gay rights activists will never allow, as Ross Douthat puts it, religious opponents of same-sex marriage to negotiate amicable terms of surrender in the late unpleasantness.

Said Achilles before vengeance: There can be no covenants between men and lions.

So let’s be blunt: the culture war is, on some level, about sociopolitical annihilation—that is, there are views that some folks earnestly believe ought to be expelled from the aegis of civil society.

For those familiar with the history of anti-gay discrimination, including the government-mandated homophobia of the 1950s Lavender Scare and the later ballot-box malignance of Anita Bryant and the Family Research Council, modern protests aimed at the cultural extirpation of the old adversary—homophobia—that was intolerable when it was powerful and is now deemed pitiful—but not pitiable—when it is weak, may seem just, perhaps divinely so.

But today’s religious dissidents to same-sex marriage are not the crusading bigots of yesteryear—as exemplified by the contemplative nuance of Rubio—and it seems unlikely that such entrenched bigotry will ever reign again.

Whatever one thinks of neo-RFRA proponents’ true intentions, Gov. Pence is manifestly on point in arguing that religious freedom laws have provided substantial legal protections to people, often of religious minorities, facing impositions on their faith that have nothing to do with gay rights. Repealing federal and state versions of RFRA outright, as many liberals have advocated since Hobby Lobby, would undercut those laws’ substantive protections for imprisoned Muslims, Amerindian kindergarteners in Texas, Indiana’s newly state-approved Church of Cannabis (because politics makes strange bong-fellows), and so many others.

RFRA opponents content to dismiss, while high on schadenfreude, religious freedom concerns in order to ruin perceived bigots should reckon with the collateral damage of that Shermanesque march to the fiery shores of “progress.” This may not be the intention—funny how word keeps coming up—of most anti-RFRA activists, but it is the reality all the same. As even Matt Yglesias of Vox, of all people in all media, pointedly acknowledged (backhandedly, of course), there is more validity than many liberals would rather admit to social conservative fears of a slippery slope beyond their disintegrating trenches in the culture wars. This is especially true when one considers the breathless hypocrisy of “pro-gay” liberals who, say, boycott Indiana and then jet off to Cuba.

None of this is to say that conservatives shouldn’t perhaps be more empathetic to RFRA skeptics who are unwilling to trust the rhetoric and legislative priorities of people they believe to harbor what could be most charitably described as sanguine indifference (and less charitably as outright hostility) to LGBT rights, especially given the aforementioned history of anti-gay vitriol from the government to the pulpit. After all, this sort of skepticism—which extrapolates likely consequences of ambiguous laws from perceived motivations of the most zealous supporters—inclines RFRA skeptics to infer anti-gay maneuvering from people opposed to gay rights for the same genre of reasons that gun rights advocates recognize (correctly) a Trojan horse in many a liberal proposal for “common sense” gun control.

In such cases, opponents of controversial reform (gun control, RFRA, etc.) do not trust that the reformers are dealing honestly when claiming a new law would not do (erode gun rights, allow/foment discrimination against gay couples, etc.) what opponents strongly suspect the reformers wish to do (ban guns, undercut gay rights, etc.).

To some extent in some quarters, this divide will not be bridged. For other situations, pairing robust RFRA protections with LGBT anti-discrimination provisions will be a vital way to convey good will where none is currently inferred. Such a harmony will not satisfy everybody. If that means gay rights opponents will have to withstand liberal opprobrium or religious freedom advocates will have to overcome some religious hostility to gays, so be it. An enduring union of those who seek tolerance and comity it should rally the better angels of the majority of Americans who want to do right by their neighbors.

Or so we can hope.


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The Future of Old Institutions

“There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people, and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help, by our own efforts, those who are unfortunate.” –Margaret Thatcher

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end…” – Semisonic on my graduating to Yale from this dear high school.

It is a fascinating experience to play the unfamiliar role of “student ambassador” to twelfth-graders in one’s former high school. Although some of those students were considering the Ivy League, none had heard of how its “need-based” financial aid policy might offer middle-class kids a better value than a state school. In fact, most were broadly unaware of basic differences between the institutions they sought to attend. It was the oddest thing, returning to a perspective where even the brightest were simultaneously unaware of the range of opportunities before them and largely oblivious to that unawareness.

Later, while wandering the distantly familiar halls, I happened across a fellow ex-cadet from our school’s popular JROTC program. Immaculately poised in his Marine Corps dress blues, Alex sat across from the cafeteria at a table decorated with promotional material. We had a good laugh for old times’ sake. He asked me about the liberals in New England, and I asked him about the Corps and his wife Amanda, who had succeeded me years ago as the notoriously ruthless executive officer of our former battalion. The soft drawl in his voice beckoned a reflexive smile, as did his unaffected style of common-sense, “real world” politics. It all reminded me how far I was from the privileged, insular urbanity of Yale.

It is incredible how things change in four years.

The dynamics Claire Vaye Watkins, now an assistant professor at Bucknell, describes in her poor, rural Nevada high school have several points in common with my majority-minority alma mater in suburban Virginia. In particular, the cozy symbiosis between M.V.H.S. and the military had no parallels among private, elite universities. Local servicemembers—like my parents—sent their children to the school; JROTC facilitated easy access to the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery and warm relationships with recruiters and military alumni. Unsurprisingly, many old classmates are in the military, where many have been married parents since before they could legally drink. (Before you gasp, my yuppie friends, this is normal where I grew up.)

Of course, myriad former classmates did go off to college. My old friends from U.S. Army bases in Germany preferred schools in whatever states they happened to graduate or somewhere they had ties. In Virginia, top-achievers went to the University of Virginia. Other promising students opted for other in-state schools, including Virginia Tech, Old Dominion, and Virginia Commonwealth. A handful departed for service academies. When it occurred to me to ask after their choices, most shrugged away the inquiry; they chased after their best interests within the realm of familiar networks.

Perhaps I am supposed to say, as Watkins suggests, that my community would be better served by more Ivy Plus attention. That may be true, and those elite institutions could certainly benefit from the infusion of more conservative, middle-class perspectives. Yet my friends seem generally to be doing well for themselves, which is more than I can say for me. So instead, I will make two observations about how the world may change—in the universities and in politics.

First: when the Supreme Court rules on marriage, it may also find race-based affirmative action unconstitutional. If so, there will be a panoply of didactic musings about post-racial mythology, insidious social trappings, blinding privilege, Asians, and so on. As a practical matter, institutions will face two options: (1) abandon diversity or (2) be more innovative in fostering it. Assuming most opt for the latter, they will have to get more creative in non-racial outreach to the underprivileged—as in, accounting for financial assets and concentrated poverty, rather than relying on income. But to get the applicants in the first place, elite universities will have to cultivate roots in places where for years the military and local schools have reaped uncontested from an enduring communal presence.

Second: Republicans for too long have been to poorer, browner, and younger Americans as Ivy League schools have been to middle-class public schools like mine: out of sight, out of mind. My being the third student in five years to matriculate from M.V.H.S. to New Haven was not enough to sustain a substantive connection between my alma maters. For that, Yale—or Harvard or MIT—would need to aggressively maintain relationships with faculty, two-way channels with administrators and parents, and a network of joint alumni who would shape the realm of possibilities for those who walk after them.

In the absence of anything resembling even an attempt at real connection with “Democratic” demographics, the GOP resembles little more than a distant collection of prejudices, most of them negative. Noises about broader inclusion are a fine start, but the game is a long one. Republicans will find limited returns in sudden “outreach” to minority neighborhoods a couple months before tough elections. A long-term investment in conversations with churches, college campuses, charitable organizations, and underprivileged career-seekers will bring conservatives into discussions where they were once despised or irrelevant. Never again should a sitting Republican congressman need to refer his unemployed kin to a functional subgroup of the Democratic caucus.

Resetting the conversation surrounding history, politics, and biases will not happen in a cycle. In the short-term, Republicans can expect rabid resistance from the Left against any attempts to expand the coalition of the Right. But poor, blue-collar, multicultural, and middle-class Americans are an abundant resource throughout this country. Any institutions that are to pass the test of time—politically, academically, or otherwise—are obliged to mine and develop that talent.


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The Court of Marriage

Update: This post was adapted by The Daily Caller. You can find that article here.

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.” –Abraham Lincoln

What is love? Oh baby, don’t judge me – don’t judge me! – no more…

Long ago, in a world where Andrew Sullivan was still hauntingly conservative, there were supporters of gay Americans who disdained the push for gay marriage. On the one hand, scions of wilted flower power thought the institution as irredeemably alien to the gay identity as a Whole Foods Market in a quaint Southern town. On the other hand, some liberal activists thought it a distraction from more pressing concerns such as bullying, antidiscrimination policy, poverty, health care, and a broader fight for “social justice”.

Now, on the eve of 2013 (assuming the world outlasts the solstice), gay marriage supporters have swept four electoral contests, and the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear cases in which gay marriage proponents have been so far undefeated. It seems history has accelerated into overdrive.

What should we make of all this?

For his part, Sullivan wrestles with the overriding conviction that gay marriage is right and SCOTUS should acknowledge it thus against the persistently cautious impulse that judicial overreach might undercut the triumph of a cause to which he and others have dedicated decades of their lives. I’m inclined to agree with Sullivan (pause a minute: you won’t see those words very often) and Jonathan Rauch in hoping and expecting that the High Court will narrowly affirm the California ruling and strike down all or part of the Defense of Marriage Act without finding (or denying) a broad national right to gay marriage. But whatever my opinion, a broad ruling that nationalizes gay marriage is not unthinkable. In any case, recognition of gay marriage will expand in coming years, and we should contemplate (political) life beyond today’s vanishing opposition.

Before anybody cries, “judicial activism,” let’s acknowledge something critical. Some ebb and flow notwithstanding, the tide will never return this ship to port in any generation. It took three decades—longer than most of my generation has existed—after Loving v. Virginia before a majority of all Americans supported interracial marriage. Without any comparable ruling from on high, and despite much public opposition, majority support for gay marriage has come in about half the time. If my peers grow—as I hope—rightward as they age, it will manifest in their endearingly nagging interest in their gay friends’ settling down in loving, committed families. So even if the final ruling is broad, any backlash that emerges will be fleeting. There will never be a marriage amendment, but there may be many policy fights and elections lost—with nothing gained in return—should enough Republicans insist on beating a decomposed horse.

Whatever path the Supreme Court takes, the challenge to conservatives is to figure how to proactively incorporate the evolving consensus into our wholesome, freedom-in-values-minded vision for America. We appeal to small business owners without dismissing workers through free markets, responsible regulation, and pro-growth governance. We appeal to parents without ignoring the childless by emphasizing digital-age education, efficient public policy, and reasonable taxes. We appeal to lower-income voters without alienating the middle class (or vice versa) in demonstrating the necessity of a self-undermining safety net and an economic climate conducive to jobs. We can appeal to a gay-friendly young and multicultural America without rejecting traditionalists through an inclusive focus on family values that has long defined the conservative ethos.

The time of the politics of “anti” is past. Heretofore, the GOP has been caricatured and dismissed as anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-black, anti-women, anti-science, anti-environment, anti-intellectual, and uniquely extreme. That many conservatives find this characterization unfair is beside the point. Many people we need to win over tend to think this way, however much we protest. So we must address and defeat the cartoon villain ascribed to us before we can substantively expand our coalition. Today, gay and straight Americans increasingly associate opposition to gay marriage—and by extension, conservatism—with the distasteful animus of James Dobson rather than the gay-affirming reticence of David Blankenhorn. Whatever the courts, voters, or various lawmakers do—or don’t do—in the next couple years, it is incumbent upon those invested in the success of conservatism to disentangle from this flaming mess.

If various elements of the Republican Party are not yet willing to overcome all reservations to gay marriage, then present some semblance of a position that can be defended in modern America. At a bare minimum, promote humane laws—e.g. automatic inheritance, hospital visitation, antidiscrimination protections, partner benefits, and joint-filing—that enhance communal stability while definitively affirming the dignity of gay unions. Along the way, it will be worth remembering that what we allow in the law—from divorce to contraception to alcohol to rooting against the Southeastern Conference—need not accord with what we expect from the pulpit.

We live in an America where a Marine officer proposing to his boyfriend in the White House—to national applause—is the new normal. This couple should be right at home in the Republican Party of tomorrow, if we are willing to lay down the welcome mat and invite our patriots into the big tent.

Are we willing and able, conservatives?


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The Grand New Republic

Update: This post was adapted by The Daily Caller. You can find that article here.

“What’s happened with the Republicans is they are, the Republican Party, is a ‘Mad Men’ party in a ‘Modern Family’ America. And it just doesn’t fit anymore.” –Matthew Dowd

“We’ve lost the country.” –Rush Limbaugh

Some voters just want to watch the world burn.

Watching Fox News on the day after the election, you saw a fascinating dynamic at play. A number of pundits spoke sympathetically of amnesty and openly criticized Arizona SB 1070 amid discussion of how to appeal to the growing Hispanic population. The O’Reilly Factor featured the unflinching admonition “to stop this Bible-based bashing of gay people,” while other segments noted the unprecedented 4 for 4 sweep gay marriage advocates won at the ballot box. The telling sentiment of the day, however, was that conservatives cannot and will not compromise on principles. So where do we go from here?

For starters, we must recognize the historic nature of this election. Barack Obama won reelection despite disastrous unemployment and a dubious economic outlook. (We’ll set aside the matter of the murdered U.S. ambassador.) Decisive electoral failure under such extraordinary circumstances, even as the country overall shifted right, certainly merits some existential panic, despite modest gubernatorial gains and a reelected House majority. But whether you think the president won without a mandate by small and divisive tactics or prevailed largely on the rote inertia of incumbency, he undeniably did so while playing heavily to the demographic strengths of the Democratic coalition—women, Latinos, blacks, millennials, gays—and everybody knows that everybody knows this.

Somewhere along the way, the Party of Lincoln became, in the eyes of an ever growing segment of America, the Party of Aging, White (Straight), Embittered Men given to fits of delusion. There are many ways, reasons, and heated denials about how this happened, but in the end, Mitt Romney lost, Barack Obama will have his second term, and the Democratic majority in the Senate will grow, as will its presence in the House. Speaking of the incoming Congress, white men will make up less than half of the House Democratic caucus for the first time in history. But for all the rekindled talk of the perpetual dominance of the jackass, even the largest political majorities are, in the grander scheme, fleeting. Louisiana, Tennessee, and Arkansas were solidly blue in the 90s. Now they are deep red. Maine voted down gay marriage in 2009 and voted it up in 2012.

Assuming you noticed the tagline on my blog or on Twitter, you may have wondered how I could feel comfortable being Republican. After all, only 6% of blacks voted for Romney, and the GOP is understandably anathema to many gay Americans and their disproportionately young and professional allies. But I’ll let you in on a secret: I don’t expect the Party to look as it does now in ten years, or even by 2016. For one, there are many tough but necessary choices ahead that will strain the special-interest-driven coalition of the Left, whatever happens with white voters, and anything is possible over the next two to four years.

The conservative movement and its values of liberty, discipline, personal responsibility, virtue, family, community, duty, and free enterprise are objectively superior to the creeping statism and obdurate collectivism of the Left. The setback of this election notwithstanding, conservatism is far from dead or even moribund. It is merely in the process of doing what all successful life does—namely, to quote the president, evolving. The matter of adjusting tone and approach to such hot-button issues as immigration, abortion, and gay equality is not one of abandoning core principles. Rather, the project before the Party of Ronald Reagan and Condoleezza Rice is to apply those values to new circumstances and new audiences.

To this end, Republican willingness to engage on comprehensive immigration reform is a great start. While Marco Rubio may or may not appeal to Hispanics outside Florida, prominent Southwestern Republicans—e.g. Sandoval, Martinez, and Cruz—are well positioned to bring diversity into the conservative electorate. I doubt embracing open borders would win the Latino vote for the GOP. However, many conservatively inclined Latino voters may be more receptive when not worrying, fairly or not, that “driving while brown” will warrant harassment under Republican governance.

The question of gays is about much more than 5% of the electorate. Young Americans, including many young Republicans, overwhelmingly understand that gay families are valid American families of people who just want to live their lives and participate in their communities like anyone else. We live in a world where voters in West Virginia, Ohio, Arizona, and both Dakotas elected gay legislators at various levels of government and where Wisconsin sent the first openly gay U.S. Senator to Washington. (Did I mention that voters just approved gay marriage in three states and defeated a constitutional ban in another?)

Put bluntly, a movement identified with and defined by opposition to anti-bullying measures, anti-discrimination laws, gay couples adopting, and, yes, same-sex marriage, will bear witness to the leftward drift of millennials toward the political event horizon of liberalism—and the world will suffer accordingly. Fortunately, once these things are accomplished, they will cease to be issues, and gay families and the people who love them can focus on other things. In the meantime, for the good of the country and everybody who loves her, it’s time for opponents of gay rights to move on.

And so we come to abortion. Many millions of Americans, particularly among Republicans, identify as pro-life. There is nothing wrong with this. Indeed, I suspect we’re moving toward a national consensus on reasonable limits to abortion that vary somewhat by state. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock did not lose once safe GOP Senate seats because they were pro-life. They lost because they were inanely self-indulgent purists who found a mawkish virtue in needlessly alienating most of the electorate. In so doing, they have achieved nothing beyond setting back the causes of restricting abortion and promoting conservative government by feeding into a tendentious narrative of a conservative “war on women.”

You should not interpret any of this as a move to eject anyone from the coalition or spark a Republican civil war. The voices and contributions of social conservatives will remain prominent and valuable. The focus on family values translates into policies that aim to benefit communities, such as school choice and more local control of education. Upon the rock of piety conservatives build institutions that provide education and social services to millions. For the sake of stewardship, Republicans of all stripes devote their resources to sound fiscal policy and good governance. Concern for life promotes charity and community service that change lives around the world.

The Republican Party, like America, is designed for the inclusion of the big tent. Our core principles are not tied to race, creed, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, or national origin. They are divined from the foundation of a diverse republic whose self-understanding is rendered, “Out of Many, One”. As I’ve noted before, the Party of Frederick Douglass, Calvin Coolidge, Oscar de Priest, and Barry Goldwater will continue to produce and hone partisans of free enterprise and limited government for as long as the American people seek prosperity. And we will welcome all comers.

As a certain young Republican congressman and vice presidential hopeful once said:

“If you believe in freedom, liberty, self-determination, free enterprise, I don’t care if you’re a Muslim, Jewish, Agnostic, Christian, gay, straight, Latino, black, white, Irish, whatever. Join us.”


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The Marriage Parties

Two rings to bind the Culture Wars

In breaking news that should surprise no one, the Democratic Party has expressed its intention to support gay marriage in its Party Platform. For several years now, prominent Democrats have been calling for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (now accomplished), the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, and the enactment of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. But the final pieces had fallen into place once Vice President Biden and finally President Obama went on the record supporting gay marriage.

Internecine Democrat struggles and short-term political calculations aside, the conservative movement has neither a moral nor political future in a blanket objection to gay marriage. Gay people have already been living together in committed relationships, raising kids, and participating in their communities for years. They are not going to abandon their families, go back into the closet, and consign their lives en masse to loneliness or celibacy.

In this vein, many conservatives are already coming around to support gay marriage. Many who oppose it are at least calling for some other legal recognition, as President Bush did back in 2004. Some leaders, like Chris Christie, support strong civil unions. Others, like Governor Romney, favor something more limited. But in all cases these conservatives are in line with data showing most Americans favor some legal recognition of gay unions. After all, no family is helped when another struggles needlessly.

Some conservatives have written off gays as just another special-interest barnacle on a bloated Democrat agenda. But many gay Americans voted more Republican in 2010 than in previous years, and while gays may be a minority, the people who know and support them are not. This trend of more conservative gay votes can continue, if conservatives go for those votes.

If Mitt Romney wants to play the long game for every vote possible, he needs to stop talking up constitutional amendments that won’t help anyone’s marriage and start advocating for proposals to support American families—gay and straight. I don’t expect him to embrace full-on gay marriage before this election, but he needs to present a vision for why all families and communities will thrive best under Republican leadership.

When Americans—gay and straight—no longer have to worry about politicians opposing or undermining the integrity of their families, many will naturally appreciate what conservative governance has to offer. Gay couples, no longer fighting for recognition, will want their taxes low and spent wisely. Gay parents, freed from endless worrying over bullying, will advocate for better schools and accountable teachers. A gay entrepreneur or worker will demand policies that promote strong businesses—with or without unions—when he no longer has to worry about being fired for having a picture of his family on his desk.

American families and the communities they live in will be naturally stronger, more committed, and more conservative when the law and order of their country support them. There will always be folks on the Left who see their opponents on these issues as bigots, and they will say so loudly. But the barb only stings while the GOP lacks an answer that resonates.

Gay marriage is only a “distraction,” if we make it one.


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Free Speech Appreciation Day

“I disagree with your opinion, but…”

I appreciate my political fights with fresh chicken sandwiches.

In case you missed the tagline, I’m openly gay. In case you didn’t, you probably expected my support of the Mayor of Boston and the government of Chicago in their stated desires to ban Chick-fil-A. Dan Cathy does enthusiastically oppose gay marriage, after all. In fact, I do agree wholeheartedly with the officials’ sentiments—we should not encourage or tolerate discrimination against our fellow Americans. Indeed, many conservatives have opposed discrimination from the days of classical liberalism to the Civil Rights Era—not always well, of course, but the history is there. Regardless of your political persuasion, we should be able to agree that undue discrimination is un-American and should be stomped out wherever found.

Which brings us to Chick-fil-A: what evidence suggests that the franchise discriminates against gay people? Neither the Mayor of Boston nor the officials in Chicago have cited any cases. They have not even suggested that they know of any, anecdotally or otherwise. These publically proposed bans are entirely ideological—that is, the president of a private company that provides private services has expressed an unpopular (in Chicago and Boston) political view. This is no better than if a town in the Bible Belt—where opposition to gay marriage remains high—had decided to ban Target or Bank of America for their support of gay rights. Both actions would blatantly contravene the spirit of our free-speech protections, even if the bans were somehow effected legally.

It is one thing to place special restrictions—e.g. banning political activity—on companies that receive government funds or tax exemptions. It is quite another to intrude into the private affairs of private entities in private practice. If Boston or Chicago are concerned about discrimination, they need only enforce the existing anti-discrimination laws in Massachusetts and Illinois, with which Chick-fil-A already must comply. If they want to promote a moral opposition to Dan Cathy’s politics, then they should employ that age-old weapon of American activism—the boycott. I’m told this tactic has worked wonders in the past.

Like the people who make statements by buying organic or local products, supporters of gay unions are free to avoid Chick-fil-A and encourage their friends and family to do the same. If the franchise is unable to prosper, it will pull out on its own. Thus, the activists will have their victory—which will be that much more powerful in its evident grounding in communal support—and nobody’s free speech or other rights will be violated.

The opponents of gay marriage already get this. This is why they’re talking more about a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day than about lawsuits. I disagree with their stance, but I wholeheartedly support the tactics.

All this principled standing is making me hungry.

We aspire to be a nation ruled by laws, not by men. Our elected officials should trust that the residents of their communities are capable of deciding what matters to them regarding food, politics, religion, or any other private matters.

Update: Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans has a brilliantly thoughtful piece for anyone invested in this issue. A little civility and mutual understanding can go a long way.