From Burke to Huntsman: Conservative Thought and Gay Marriage

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conservative thought and gay marriage
Former Governor Jon Huntsman // Credit: Daily Caller

Former Republican Utah Governor Jon Huntsman recently authored an article titled, “Marriage Equality Is a Conservative Cause.” Consequently, his argument has stirred the political pot concerning the topic of gay marriage. Share the news:

Printed on Thursday in the American Conservative, Huntsman argues that marriage equality for all is actually an idea that conservative thinkers should embrace given the present ideological landscape of the U.S:

“The marketplace of ideas will render us irrelevant, and soon, if we are not honest about our time and place in history… Instead, we need to take a hard look at what today’s conservatism stands for.” Tweet quote:

Although Huntsman supported civil unions during his tenure as governor and throughout his presidential campaign, he argues it was a step towards, “bringing all citizens more fully into the fabric of a state they already were—and always had been—a part of.”

Huntsman continues:

“All Americans should be treated equally by the law, whether they marry in a church, another religious institution, or a town hall. This does not mean that any religious group would be forced by the state to recognize relationships that run counter to their conscience. Civil equality is compatible with, and indeed promotes, freedom of conscience.” Tweet quote:

Marriage equality is currently up for review by the Supreme Court and a Gallup poll from 2012 revealed that about 54 percent of Americans favor legalizing gay marriage. So does gay marriage have a place within a ‘conservative’ philosophy?

This rationale may not be as outlandish as it seems. David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and leader of the Conservative Party, put forward a similar argument. After several years of debate, gay marriage in the UK is set for legalization.

“Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us. Society is stronger when we make vows to each other and we support each other. I don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a conservative” Cameron said at a party conference speech in 2011.

Cameron’s words harken back to the early roots of western conservationism, sewn in part by prominent political thinker Edmund Burke. Central to the political philosophy of Burke was an appreciation for community and how the values of a community need to be reflected in its laws.

The prevailing opinion on gay marriage during the late 1700’s was not very progressive, but today’s growing consensus on marriage equality could provide a foundation for arguments stemming from communal values rather than universal equality.

By focusing on how expanding the institution of marriage to include same-sex couples might stabilize societal relations is one example of a Burkean and — by extension — a conservative approach to the issue. Adjusting such principles in response to the shifting status quo of a larger society might not represent as much of a betrayal to conservatism as some might think.

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2 comments
Noel Egnatios
Noel Egnatios

Given we've been hearing a lot about certain Republicans coming out as pro-gay rights over the past couple of days, I wonder if there hasn't been an internal party discussion regarding this particular stance - possibly agreeing to remove the party taboo from such a position. Will be interesting to see if more people follow suit.

Jason Brown
Jason Brown

Huntsman is either going to be a trailblazer for his party or is 20 years too soon. I find it hard, however, for the notion of marriage equality to gain any momentum behind the powerful social-conservative wing of the Republican Party, which was exampled by the primary success of former senator and certified bible thumper, Rick Santorum, last year.

In all honesty, I see Huntsman only attaching himself to the Republican brand because of 2016 hopes, but if he doesn't run or loses in the nomination, I see him either going independent like Mayor Bloomberg or moving into the Democratic Party like former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.

Nonetheless, Huntsman will be a perennial political force in the coming era -- he just has to decide how he wants to play his cards and switching parties might be a hand he plays.