The national debate over gay marriage returns to San Francisco today, where six years ago San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom first handed out marriage licenses to gay couples at City Hall. Now activists are challenging California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, in a trial that might set the groundwork for the issue to reach the Supreme Court. Who’s leading the same-sex marriage charge? Theodore Olson, President George W. Bush’s former solicitor general, and a lifelong Republican who also served under Ronald Reagan.
In a political environment where President Obama has shied away from endorsing gay marriage as if it were kryptonite, Olson makes a cogent argument in Newsweek for why die-hard conservatives should “celebrate” gay marriage, arguing that “same-sex unions promote the values conservatives prize.” Olson isn’t the only conservative to back gay marriage. From Dick Cheney and Steve Schmidt to Ron Paul and The Daily Beast’s own Meghan McCain, our list of Republican’s who refuse to toe the party line.
Bush’s old solicitor general is teaming up with his old rival in Bush v. Gore, David Boies, to persuade a federal court that California’s Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. He lays out his reasons in The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage, where he criticizes his fellow conservatives' “knee-jerk hostility” to same-sex marriage. “The very idea of marriage is basic to recognition as equals in our society; any status short of that is inferior, unjust, and unconstitutional,” he writes. “The fact that individuals who happen to be gay want to share in this vital social institution is evidence that conservative ideals enjoy widespread acceptance. Conservatives should celebrate this, rather than lament it.” Today, the anti-gay marriage camp successfully convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to block the trial from being broadcast on Youtube.
In a shock to many familiar with the former vice-president’s combative defense of many conservative positions, Dick Cheney said last summer that he favored allowing gays and lesbians to marry “on a state-by-state basis.” Cheney told the National Press Club that, "people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish, any kind of arrangement they wish." One can’t help but wonder if his beliefs stem, at least in part, from being a proud grandpa. Cheney’s daughter Mary is a lesbian who has been in a relationship with her partner since 1992, gave birth to a son in 2007, and is pregnant with another child now. Although she’s tried to stay out of the political spotlight, Mary has occasionally been made a political football, as when John Edwards mentioned her in the vice-presidential debate in 2004.
Rep. Ron Paul, former presidential candidate and America’s best-known libertarian, has said he would have voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, which says states don’t have to recognize gay marriages. “In an ideal world,” Paul writes, “state governments enforce marriage contracts and settle divorces, but otherwise stay out of marriage.” He has proposed statutorily preventing federal courts from dealing with marriage issues. “I don’t see rights as gay rights, women’s rights, minority rights,” Paul has said. “I see only one kind of right: the individual.”
Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks is well-known for his light-hearted romps through the suburbs in his books of pop anthropology like Bobos in Paradise. But his 2003 essay calling for conservatives to support gay marriage was very serious. In a culture that values fleeting pleasure over long-term fidelity, Brooks argued, as many people as possible should be encouraged to seek the stability and shared sacrifice of wedded bliss. “The conservative course is not to banish gay people from making such commitments,” Brooks writes. “It is to expect that they make such commitments. We shouldn't just allow gay marriage. We should insist on gay marriage.”
Meghan McCain, Daily Beast columnist and daughter of the former Republican presidential candidate, has drawn the ire of some of her fellow conservatives over her support of same-sex marriage, but she doesn’t mind. (“[Y]es, I'm still a Republican. Get used to it,” she says.) The Constitution guarantees that all men are equal, McCain argues, and that goes for the right to marry the person you love. McCain urges the GOP to embrace gay rights in order to attract the next generation of voters who don’t have the same attitudes about gays as older folks.
Richard Cizik rose to national prominence as the National Association of Evangelicals' vice president for government affairs when he began speaking out on another traditionally liberal issue: the environment. He was on the NPR show Fresh Air to talk about that issue when host Terri Gross asked him if he still opposed gay marriage. "I'm shifting, I have to admit,” Cizik responded. “In other words, I would willingly say that I believe in civil unions. I don't officially support redefining marriage from its traditional definition, I don't think." An uproar followed, and after a week of apologizing, Cizik was forced to resign.
The former chief campaign adviser to John McCain, Steven Schmidt, told the gay newspaper the Washington Blade that, unlike his old boss, he supports gay marriage. "I think that more and more Americans are insistent that, at a minimum, gay couples should be treated with respect and when they see a political party trying to stigmatize a group of people who are hardworking, who play by the rules, who raise decent families, they're troubled by it."
Christine Todd Whitman
For Christie Whitman, it’s all about the separation of church and state. The former New Jersey governor and EPA head wrote last month that state lawmakers are wasting time agonizing over the definition of marriage when they should be focusing on taxes, education, health care, and other problems. Whitman says it would be better if the state merely recognized legal relationships between two consenting adults, and let couples celebrate their relationship in a religious setting however they choose. “I believe this country was founded with the intention of providing, and should continue to protect, our freedom to practice the religion of our choice without the intrusion of the state,” she says. “Marriages should take place in a house of worship where the state is left at the door.”
Compiled by Liz Goodwin and Elspeth Reeve.