Why conservatives can applaud same-sex marriage

Yesterday afternoon the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, following this week's Supreme Court ruling that declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional, lifted the stay on same-sex marriage in California. Promptly, Kristin Perry and Sandy Stier, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Proposition 8, were married in San Francisco, California Attorney General Kamala Harris officiating.

The Los Angeles Times reports grumbling by proponents of the dead-letter Proposition 8 that the appeals court should not have observed the normal waiting period following a high-court ruling, and no doubt there will be much wagging of heads in some pulpits tomorrow over the triumph of sin and the likely appearance of the Antichrist.*

But it seems to me that there are clear reasons for which legalization of gay marriage should please conservative-minded people.

The reason we have civil marriage is that the state has an interest in maintaining good order among its citizens, particularly in regard to property and its minor citizens. (I've said before that if you don't think marriage is about property, you haven't read Jane Austen.) The orderly conveyance of property in marriage, in divorce, in inheritance, is a primary interest of the state, which you can see by the amount of space these issues take up in the statutes and case law. It is also in the interest of the state that children should be brought up in stable households and protected from harm, and marriage is one element in the stability of households.

Order and stability. What qualities would a conservative prize more highly?

Mr. Justice Kennedy's opinion this week stressed the equal protection of the law, accepting the plaintiffs' argument that there should not be two classes of citizens. It is within living memory that millions of African-American citizens of the United States had a second-class status and were denied the equal protection of the law.

I would think that equality under the law is a foundational conservative principle.

Conservatives have long expressed concern about the prevalence of divorce in America and the increasing pattern of couples cohabitating without the form of marriage. If stability in long-term married relationships is a good thing for society, you would think that it would gladden conservative hearts to know that gay people want to establish just such relationships.

The Constitution is not our only foundational document. The other one, the Declaration of Independence, speaks of an inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. Happiness is elusive amid the hardships and troubles we endure, and we endure them better in companionship.

I know couples, male-male couples and female-female couples who have been together for thirty and forty years, despite social opprobrium and the lack of the legal protections and benefits that society has accorded male-female couples. I know such couples who are raising or have raised children. For that matter, I am a communicant of an Episcopal parish that has blessed same-sex unions, and was at the keyboard to provide the music for one such ceremony. I have seen the joy in their faces.

I have known these people, worked with them, worshiped with them, sat at table with them. I cannot understand how these new marriages would diminish mine or anyone else's. It is not pleasant to think that someone calling himself a conservative would hold that someone else's happiness diminishes his own. And for the devout conservative who thinks that these unions are contrary to Scripture, I recommend the passages on hardness of heart.



*It may take some time for the churches to adjust. Look how long they accepted the biblical tolerance of slavery. I can't lay my hands on the citation at the moment, but someone recently quoted the late Rev. Will Campbell as saying, when asked when the Church will deal with homosexuality, "The Church still hasn't dealt with heterosexuality. You have to wait your turn."


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