Ted Olson, A Conservative For Civil Rights

"I do not believe that our society can ever live up to the promise of equality, and the fundamental rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, until we stop invidious discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation," - Ted Olson.

I've spent much of the last decade being more and more depressed by the direction of American conservatism. Ted Olson reminds me why I should hold out hope. I wrote the conservative case for gay marriage twenty years ago, and am grateful for those heterosexual conservatives and libertarians - David Brooks comes to mind - who could see what I was getting at. But my being gay, of course, made this sound unavoidably self-serving. And the emergence of an establishment Republican figure who has the courage of his convictions was a dream that never quite happened. Yes, we had Weld, who is awesome. And we had Cheney - but he lifted not a finger to prevent the anti-gay putsch among Republicans, and never ever made a substantive argument in public against discrimination. He has never even publicly taken on Virginia's GOP which has stripped his own family of basic civil protections.

And then comes Olson. Olson is different - a man of impeccable establishment conservative credentials who sees the injustice and perversity of singling out gay couples for truly punitive government discrimination. And his lawsuit, which I began by fearing, seems to me to be a truly breakthrough event. His rationale is laid out in Newsweek. It is the best summation of the conservative case for marriage equality by a straight guy I have ever read. And I'd be lying if I didn't find tears in my eyes by the end of it.

Please read it. Its logic is so strong, its argument so solid, its empathy so vivid it reminds me of what a small government, inclusive, tolerant conservatism could truly be. It reminds me of how conservatism could and should be recast - and not as a p.r. message but as a reality - in defense of minority civil rights. It reminds me of when the GOP was not essentially a product of Dixie.

The arguments are mostly familiar to me, of course. But they are laid out with admirable candor and conviction. I have two money quotes, the first of which I'd never thought of in two decades of reading and writing on this:

The procreation argument cannot be taken seriously.

We do not inquire whether heterosexual couples intend to bear children, or have the capacity to have children, before we allow them to marry. We permit marriage by the elderly, by prison inmates, and by persons who have no intention of having children. What's more, it is pernicious to think marriage should be limited to heterosexuals because of the state's desire to promote procreation. We would surely not accept as constitutional a ban on marriage if a state were to decide, as China has done, to discourage procreation.

But what he also does is take into account both the fact of gay lives and the message marriage inequality sends:

No matter what you think of homosexuality, it is a fact that gays and lesbians are members of our families, clubs, and workplaces. They are our doctors, our teachers, our soldiers (whether we admit it or not), and our friends. They yearn for acceptance, stable relationships, and success in their lives, just like the rest of us.

Conservatives and liberals alike need to come together on principles that surely unite us. Certainly, we can agree on the value of strong families, lasting domestic relationships, and communities populated by persons with recognized and sanctioned bonds to one another. Confining some of our neighbors and friends who share these same values to an outlaw or second-class status undermines their sense of belonging and weakens their ties with the rest of us and what should be our common aspirations. Even those whose religious convictions preclude endorsement of what they may perceive as an unacceptable "lifestyle" should recognize that disapproval should not warrant stigmatization and unequal treatment.

When we refuse to accord this status to gays and lesbians, we discourage them from forming the same relationships we encourage for others. And we are also telling them, those who love them, and society as a whole that their relationships are less worthy, less legitimate, less permanent, and less valued. We demean their relationships and we demean them as individuals. I cannot imagine how we benefit as a society by doing so.

That is the core argument I made in Virtually Normal. To have it expressed and improved on and broadcast by a heterosexual conservative in 2010 is a moment to savor.

Know hope.