President Obama’s announcement that he supports same-sex marriage is likely to mean that in a decade or two this will no longer be a major public policy issue. Individuals of whatever gender will be able to enter into marriage contracts.
But in the short term the politics will be problematic, to say the least.
Allowing gays to enter into such contracts in no way limits the liberty of others—including those with religious objections to such unions—to marry, not marry, or anything else. Conservatives who are for limited government thus should leave such choices to individuals and focus on paring back all the other government intrusions into our lives and wallets.
In my commentary “ Questions for Conservatives about Gay Marriage and Sock Drawers ,” I argued that those who do object in most cases wouldn’t even know if there was a legal paper with the letters M-A-R-R-I-A-G-E on it somewhere in the house of a gay couple, and that they should live and let live. But to give you an idea of the moral sense of many of those individuals, on the conservative Free Republic discussion board for my reasoned opinion I was called a “pimp” and “faggot” (my marriage to a woman and fatherhood of two daughters notwithstanding) and banned from posting there, which I now wear as a badge of honor.
The timing of Obama’s announcement was certainly political. Perhaps he sees that he’s lost many morally traditional independent and Democratic voters anyway, so he wants to focus on energize his own disillusioned base.
Unfortunately, many Republicans will make this symbolic issue a major campaign theme. This will energize some conservative voters by stoking the Santorum “I’m from the government and I’m here to tell you how to live your life” arrogance and pretense that has no place in the culture of a free society. It will also alienate those independent voters who are concerned with bread-and-butter issues and the disastrous Obama economy but who rightly distrust those Republicans obsessed with micromanaging our bedrooms.
If Republicans take the White House and Congress, many conservatives will crow about a mandate for their social agenda. But the good news is that younger Americans are more libertarian, and as they become the majority, the opposition to same-sex marriage will fade.
Obama has told his fellow Democrats that who one marries should be a matter for individuals, not government. Too bad there’s no Barry Goldwater today to say the same to Republicans.
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.