David Frum

12.12.12

A Conservative Path Forward on Same-Sex Marriage

Rod Dreher, one of the more respected opponents of same-sex marriage, knows we are heading for a future of marriage equality. His advice? Build a "legal firewall to protect religious liberty once SSM becomes the law of the land."

Here's an example of what a conservative "firewall" can look like, courtesy of British Conservatives:

Ensure that no religious organisation or individual minister can be compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises.

Provide an opt-in system for religious organisation who wish to conduct marriages for same-sex couples.

Amend the Equality Act 2010 to reflect that no discrimination claims can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple.

Ensure that legislation will not affect the canon law of the Church of England or the Church in Wales. As a result, if either church wanted to conduct a same-sex marriage, it would require a change to primary legislation at a later date and a change to canon law.

The last point is a non-issue for Americans, but the first three are highly relevant. Providing protection for religious officials and institutions against discrimination claims is a highly important step for conservatives here in America. Rod claims, and I must concur, that there's some urgency on this issue:

It was my guess that most Americans who favor SSM don’t want to punish churches and religious charities who disagree. We should appeal to them while they still exist.

Most conservatives can see where we're going. In 2004, George W. Bush used the marriage issue as part of his strategy to win Ohio. In 2012, Barack Obama openly campaigned as a supporter of same-sex marriage. Don't Ask, Don't Tell is gone. The Defense of Marriage Act is on its way out the door. And while Jonathan Rauch makes a poignant case against the Supreme Court making history by decisively ruling on California's Proposition 8 -- effectively asking the Courts to allow the case for marriage equality to be made before the people -- it is only a matter of time before gay and lesbian couples gain full equality at the ballot box.

Conservatives face, to pardon my Newt-speak, a crossroads. We can continue a fight against relative inevitability, or we can focus efforts on protecting freedom of conscience and religious liberty. There's still time for conservatives to coopt this issue as part of a broader agenda for promoting family values. But rest assured, if we wait too long, that opportunity will pass.