Conservativism Of our Times

I was going to write this week on same-sex marriage, a civil right that strengthens the institution of marriage; I was going to write on the silliness of “defense of marriage” acts and proposed constitutional amendments to “defend” an institution that is not under attack. Having read last week’s Phillipian, however, I have decided to give my space to a piece co-written by Will Scharf ’04, Alex Thorn ’04, Cassie Tognoni ’05, Derek de Svastich ’06, and Dan Taylor ’06, discussing the leftwing bias of campus media. Just kidding! It is admirable, actually, that conservative students have chosen to express their views through The Phillipian, and not only because the contrast draws more attention to my column. I have seen posters around school this week celebrating Ronald Reagan’s 93rd birthday. I have also read that conservative students are the victims of intolerance. They are subject to the “bigoted attitude” of our “liberal student body,” according to Dan Taylor ’06’s article last week. Allegedly, we left-of-center types believe that conservatives are “racist,” “uneducated, ignorant,” “rich, high-class, elitist people.” I hear these stereotypes primarily in conservatives’ complaints. Conservatism does not entail racism. Further, conservatives’ success in the political arena attests that they are not uneducated or ignorant as a whole. Clearly, “not all conservatives are rich men in high society.” Nearly half of the electorate voted for President George W. Bush. Life for campus conservatives, then, is not awful. Campus conservatives meet not with bigotry and intolerance, but with disagreement—which is different. For one, bigotry, unlike disagreement, is undemocratic. Consider the bill that makes Ohio the 38th state to ban gay marriage. Should Massachusetts grant marriages to committed same-sex couples, the federal Constitution requires Ohio to honor those marriages. Constitutionality, however, seems no object here. Ohio’s Republican governor, Bob Taft, claimed on Feb. 6, in support of the bill he signed on that day, marriage is “an institution we must reaffirm.” If so, then why deny it to gay and lesbian couples if not for bigotry’s sake? The struggle for gay rights’ current focus on marriage attests to the conservatism of our times. In the 1970’s, there existed something of a gay culture—not necessarily the culture of all gay men or of all gay women, but a culture centered on gay people, different from the mainstream but, like other minority cultures, a component of American culture. At least, so I’m told. Being straight and having been born in 1985, I would not know for sure. Historically, gay culture did not overvalue marriage—or monogamy, for that matter. HIV/AIDS had something to do with leading the gay community toward more committed partnerships. The fight for marriage, however, reflects something more: people want to settle down, buy a house, and possibly raise a family. Further, committed couples want the tax advantages, partner benefits, and so on, denied from to them on account of their sexuality. As David Brooks wrote in a New York Times column this winter, conservatives should be delighted. Instead, much of America wants to “defend” marriage from a threat that doesn’t exist. As a faculty member explained recently, he is happily married and does not feel threatened in the least if gay people want to get married as well. The Ohio law cuts off partner benefits for unmarried partners of state employees—straight or gay. Gay couples, who cannot marry, suffer inequality because of this law. Nonetheless, no leading presidential candidate will support gay marriage for fear of losing votes. The Massachusetts Constitution, however, already supports gay marriage. That some conservatives want to amend the Constitution to remove civil rights from a group of Americans because of their sexuality simply does not makes sense.