I must admit that I was first drawn to two of the political commentators whose work I most enjoy for reasons that could be dismissed as being based on group identity: First, Christopher Hitchens as an atheist, later Andrew Sullivan as a gay man. In both cases it is as much their wider political outlook that I relate to, given my admiration for both Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke. Both are Englishmen, born in 1949 and 1963 respectively, now resident in Washington, D.C. Hitchens became a United States citizen in 2007, and Sullivan is in the process of becoming one. Hitchens spend his youth on the Luxemburgist wing of international socialist politics, while Sullivan studied the conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott. Both initially supported the 2003 war in Iraq; Hitchens has remained hawkish while Sullivan has since regretted this stance. Were they to return home, Hitchens would be on the Euston Manifesto wing of New Labour, while Sullivan would be on the Alan Duncan—David Davis libertarian wing of the Conservative Party.
Last week, both Hitchens and Sullivan wrote on the crisis within the Roman Catholic Church, which extends from parishes in Ireland, Massachusetts and Bavaria to the Vatican, with even Pope Benedict XVI himself implicated.
On Wednesday, the Cato Institute, a US libertarian think-tank, hosted a talk, “Is There a Place for Gay People in Conservatism and Conservative Politics?”, with Nick Herbert, Conservative MP and Shadow Environment Secretary, Andrew Sullivan, blogger with The Atlantic, and Maggie Gallagher, President of the National Organization for Marriage.
Though I’m fond of Sullivan’s arguments and can understand his perspective, he can seem a little angry at times, even if justifiably so. In any case, Nick Herbert’s speech (audio here) was certainly the highlight of the event, laying out a vision of the Conservative Party that would treat sexuality as a completely unexceptional in how it governs. He talked of how there could be more openly gay Conservative than Labour MPs after the upcoming general election and how allowing gay people to enter an institution such as marriage fitted in nicely to a conservative vision. He finished his speech strongly:
I read Andrew Sullivan‘s blog regularly enough and enjoy it. But oftentimes he can jump to conclusions with data that lies with his general thesis. Yesterday he published two contradictory polls, without picking up or commenting on this incongruity.
In a post favouring the end of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, whereby gays and lesbians cannot serve openly in the military (a policy that should be repealed, as it needlessly leads to qualified soldiers being dismissed), he cited a Gallup Poll that showed that 58% of Republican voters favoured the end of this policy.
Then in a separate post on the worrying views of Republican voters, he cited a Daily Kos Poll showing a range of outrageous views. He drew attention to the statistic that only 8% supported allowing openly gay teachers in public schools, given that Republican icon Ronald Reagan opposed the Briggs Initiative in 1978 that would have instituted such a ban in California’s public schools.
Side-by-side, these two statistics seem strange. Following through on the links shows that the Daily Kos Poll does give a statistic on gays in the military, claiming that 59% of Republicans do not think gays should serve openly.
Had these appeared on separate days, it might be understandable, but to show both polls without wondering whether Gallup, founded in 1935 and well renowned for its methodology and predictive power, might not be a more reliable indicator of political viewpoints, seems a little strange.
This Tuesday, the voters of Maine repealed the decision of their legislature to allow gay couples to marry by voting Yes to Proposition 1. This is a disappointing decision, but not just because of the principles of the case. Those interested in politics might take sides in elections and issues in other countries, but in most cases on a small scale, it’s only a matter of preference, rather a belief in the effect it will have on them. But with an issue like this, the development in other countries matters here in Ireland and elsewhere. I think it’s inevitable that at some point, whether in five or thirty years, that there will be no restrictions on gay couples marrying. But the more other countries and states there are allow this, the sooner it will happen. We tend to catch up a little late on certain issues here after they have become a trend elsewhere.
As things stand, The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, South Africa, Norway and Sweden all allow gay couples to marry, with the change in law occurring variously since 2001. In the United States, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa and New Hampshire do. The most significant of these is Iowa, outside of the traditionally more liberal states of New England. But in all cases where it has been put directly to the people, the electorate have opposed equality.
Personally, I dislike the idea of deciding people’s rights by a vote of the majority. But it is still perhaps time to stop and realize that however much this might be seen in terms of rights and equality, there are large numbers of people for whom it does not make sense that marriage should be anything other than a union between a man and a woman, however dictionaries might now define it. It’s difficult to know what it will take to change people’s mind on this, or how long it will take. But the political approach should take this into account.
What needs to be addressed is the question of how this affects children. The Yes to One campaign in Maine used an interview with a couple from Massachusetts, which had previously been used successfully by the Yes to Eight campaign in California, in which their son found out about homosexuality through a fairy tale read in class.
While I wonder about whether young boys would have any interest in reading lovey-dovey stories about princes and princesses, that would be my only reason to be cautious about a teacher reading such a story in class. Ultimately speaking, yes, if gay couples can marry, it would have to be mentioned in schools. Not in any orchestrated, “Now we’re going to talk about gay people” way, just as something that exists in society. Increasingly children will hear of prominent gay figures mentioned in the media, possibly referring to their husband or wife, while not referring to any big gay-specific issue. If a child were to ask his teacher about this, and is told, “Yes, they’re married”, they would probably just go back and play with their friends and not give it much thought other than that, where if the teacher were to say “I’m not allowed talk to you about that”, they would inevitably be intrigued. Where equality exists in law, there is no real reason to prohibit discussion about it. As to their son, chances are he won’t turn out to be gay, and if he does, something his teacher read to him in second grade will not have been the cause. So some of this problem, and of opposition to allowing gay couples to marry in general, is still due to the nature-nurture confusion about the issue.
Speaking of the defeat of Proposition 1, I would have to agree with those such as Andrew Sullivan who laid some of the blame for the result with President Barack Obama. During his campaign for presidency, he stated clearly speaking to Pastor Rick Warren that he believes “marriage is a union between a man and a woman”, and that he further believes that it is a sacred because of its religious origins.
Opponents of marriage for gay couples have used that quote on every occasion since, and it is gold dust from their point of view. It allows those who see themselves as moderate or liberal in many respects to oppose marriage equality, given that the man dubbed the most liberal President ever (though that is mostly due to his economic positions) feels that way. He did oppose Prop 8 in California, albeit it from the classical conservative stare decisis perspective. But some of that may have simply been political, to speak on both sides of the issue during the campaign. He claimed that he would be a fierce advocate for gay rights, that he would repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (prohibiting gays from serving openly in the army, which led to the dismissal of an Arabic translator earlier this year) and the Defense of Marriage Act (prohibiting the recognition at a federal level of gay unions as marriage), but he has failed to show any signs of movement on either. In this, he is letting down a group of Americans whose activists don’t feel they can turn elsewhere politically for support.
As he said, it’s not that she’s probably a Maoist, but she is clueless.
I don’t think that makes her a closet commie, and I’m not joining Glenn Beck’s new McCarthyism, but it does make her a clueless, morally bankrupt lefty – the kind who wears a Guevara t-shirt or a CCCP ball-cap and expects to be taken seriously.