Free Markets, Free People
Over at RedState, Erick Erickson promoted a post in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage by “mjdaniels,” a Christian conservative and long-time lurker there. It’s a long post that makes a number of good points, but he ultimately makes a number of rhetorical errors that give his fellow Christian conservatives an easy way out, and they did fix on those errors. So it is that the people I see praising his argumentation with the fewest reservations are mostly not currently practicing Christians or self-identified conservatives.
Among those errors, the biggest was probably when he said, “Is Homosexuality a Sin? I. Do. Not. Care.” Christians are supposed to care whether others sin. The proper question is the duty others have to sinners. And behold all the RedState regular commenters saying that they’re called to rebuke sin and lead sinners away from sin, out of love. Many deny that enshrining these rebukes in legal exclusivity is tantamount to “hunting down sinful people,” and they claim that it isn’t them but same-sex marriage activists who are trying to “wield the power of the government to enforce my convictions on others.”
I’d sorely like to see how his fellow Christian conservatives would respond if they couldn’t focus on those errors. In particular, I wished “mjdaniels” had better focused on something he only said in passing at the end of his post: that opponents of same-sex marriage were essentially calling for “casting the first stone at” this set of sinners.
It seems to me that when persuading Christian conservatives, one should be absolutely clear that the status quo is coercion – discriminatory taxes and inheritance rules, and denying the right to contract, all of which conservatives agree is state coercion when it’s applied to them – and that when Jesus was challenged to support such coercion (stoning a woman caught in the act of adultery, according to Mosaic Law), he in turn challenged the teachers of law and Pharisees that the first stone should be cast by one who is without sin. When no one would stone her, he said he would not condemn her that way either, and he simply told her to leave her life of sin.
If even Jesus doesn’t think it’s humans’ place to punish violations of one of the Ten Commandments dealing with marriage, then it’s an uphill climb for a Christian conservative to argue that it’s their duty to uphold the use of such force based on moral strictures that are much less clear.
I find it baffling that conservatives think the government is capable of making a compact sacred by calling it a marriage, but there I see it in the RedState comments. Do they teach their children that the state’s refraining from coercion is an indication of societal approval of a behavior? No; what is not prohibited is merely left to be governed by the other aspects of civil society (the family, the market, churches, social pressure, etc.) and, if Christians are correct, God’s ultimate judgment.
I already mentioned that marriage, kids, and a mortgage are very strong indicators of conservatism. Here’s a straightforward causal explanation: when you’re invested in something, you don’t want it to be taken from you, and you’re skeptical of starry-eyed meddlers doing anything that might threaten it. Probably the best thing done for the cause against gun control was teaching others how to use and maintain a firearm: once people own one, it sharpens the mind to cut through any argument for taking it away.
But a gun is a small investment compared to a committed and intimate relationship, custody of children, and homeownership. A dollar taxed is one that you can’t spend on your family when they want something, a dollar borrowed is one that your kids will pay back, and that meddler on TV is rolling the dice with a major part of your life.
In the case of immigration, Hispanics are already primed to be conservative because they’re already invested. With gay marriage, you have a group trying awfully hard to get more invested.
The conservative argument for embracing gay marriage is that marriage seems to be a fine institution that benefits even people who can’t have children together, and that it may strengthen the institution and the country to expand the institution so that a nontrivial minority of the population is on the inside trying to protect it rather than on the outside where their exclusion leads to thorny political issues of respect and tribalism.
Another conservative argument is that if gay marriage is politically inevitable, conservatives should proactively move through legislation to ensure that it goes smoothly without infringing on other freedoms (like those of association and contract), rather than allow this to play out entirely in the courts or in a referendum. If conservatives keep trying to board the windows, more stuff is going to end up broken than if they just opened the door.
As with immigration and Hispanics, marriage may not be gays’ top priority, but it matters, and the way Republicans approach and discuss the issue can signal that “you’re not one of us,” which is poison for coalition-building.
The flip side of that coin doesn’t have to be pandering; given the consciousness of gay communities about targeted violence and bullying, it’d be awesome if conservatives taught more gays how to use and maintain firearms.