Friday, April 17, 2009

Why Republicans should support same-sex marriage, according to McCain's 2008 campaign manager, Steve Schmidt

Steve Schmidt gave a ground-breaking speech to the Log Cabin Republicans today. Here's the gist of the speech:

The institution of marriage is the foundation of society and alterations to its definitions shouldn't be lightly undertaken. It has always been defined as the legal union of a man and a woman, and it's understandable that many Americans are apprehensive about making a definitional change to so profoundly an important institution. But it is a tradition, not a creed, or, at least, not a national creed. It is not how we define ourselves as Americans. And while we shouldn't carelessly dismiss the importance of enduring traditions, we should understand that traditions do change over time in every society. And as long as those changes do not conflict with the tenets of our national creed then they can, and inevitably will, be modified by a society that has come to view them as inequitable.

Our national creed is a declaration of natural rights, not a compact for the preservation of social customs, as important as many of those customs are. It was precisely and elegantly defined 233 years ago as adherence to certain self-evident truths. All are created equal and endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Americans' fidelity to that creed ended the tradition of slavery because it was understood that slavery denied to the slave the universal rights America was founded in blood to protect. Women were constitutionally disenfranchised. But in time that injustice was rectified because the nation realized such discrimination violated our national creed.

The argument of the pro-life community acquires its moral force because it holds that the life of the unborn is not distinct in its dignity from the life of the born, and, thus, possesses a God-given right to be protected. The same protection cannot be argued to extend to the institutional definition of marriage as exclusively the union of persons of the opposite sex.

[I]t cannot be argued that marriage between people of the same sex is un-American or threatens the rights of others. On the contrary, it seems to me that denying two consenting adults of the same sex the right to form a lawful union that is protected and respected by the state denies them two of the most basic natural rights affirmed in the preamble of our Declaration of Independence - liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. ...

I'm confident American public opinion will continue to move on the question toward majority support, and sooner or later the Republican Party will catch up to it. ...

Whether you are for or against same sex marriages, every Republican ought to value the right of people to make such personal decisions for themselves. As former Vice President Cheney observed, freedom means freedom for everybody. And I think Republicans should always be on the side of freedom and equal rights.

I, and I believe most people, believe you are born with your sexuality. It is not a choice. It should offend us as Republicans and Americans when gays are denigrated as degenerates or un-American or undeserving of the government's protection of their rights. And the Republican Party should give voice to genuine outrage when anyone belittles the humanity of another person. It is offensive in the extreme to the values of this nation, and we should be in the forefront of rejecting such truly un-American prejudice. ...

We should publicly affirm that gays are entitled to the same respect and protections we accord heterosexuals to be secure from discrimination in their employment and the places they choose to live; to enter into contractual relationships with another person that grant them the same benefits and privileges allowed married couples, such as tax advantages accorded married couples or the responsibilities to make end of life decisions for one another. ...

I think the institution would be strengthened by the inclusion of more couples who are genuinely committed to each other. But even if you believe marriage would be changed for the worse by same sex unions, I'm not sure it's a compelling argument for their exclusion. We don't forbid divorce, a more proven and prevalent threat to the health of our society.

As I said, I respect the opinions of Americans who oppose marriage for gay couples on religious grounds. I may disagree, but if you sincerely believe God's revealed truth objects to it then it is perfectly honorable to oppose it. But those are not the grounds on which a political party should take or argue a position. If you put public policy issues to a religious test you risk becoming a religious party, and in a free country, a political party cannot remain viable in the long term if it is seen as sectarian.

There is a sound conservative argument to be made for same sex marriage. I believe conservatives, more than liberals, insist that rights come with responsibilities. No other exercise of one's liberty comes with greater responsibilities than marriage. In a marriage, two people are completely responsible to and for each other. If you are not willing to accept and faithfully discharge those responsibilities, you shouldn't enter the state of matrimony, and it doesn't make a damn bit of difference if you're straight or gay. It is a responsibility like no other, which can and should make marriage an association between two human beings more fulfilling than any other.

Marriage can be a profoundly gratifying state that strengthens the virtue of individuals and societies, and increases the measure and quality of the happiness we enjoy. It seems to me a terrible inequity that any person should be denied that responsibility, and the emotional enrichment it can provide. And I cannot in good conscience exclude anyone who is prepared for such a commitment from the prospect of such happiness.

In closing, I'll return to our national creed, what Lincoln called the inestimable jewel of American history, and offer my respect for and urge my fellow Republicans to respect every human being's rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness as much as they cherish their own.

Customs change. Societies change. People change. But that creed must never change.
I agree with all of that, including the observation that being in favor of same-sex marriage is a conservative position. I hope Republicans take Schmidt seriously.