Gay Conservatism: Born In The USA


My Sunday column reflected on the ironies of British and American conservatism on the gay question:

Since I left the UK a quarter of a century ago as a supporter of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, the gulf between American and British conservatism on this question has never been this wide. There is something of an irony in this. Gay conservatism first found its footing in the US in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the publication of Bruce Bawer’s A Place at the Table and my own Virtually Normal.

The gay left denounced us as “homocons”, but the gay and lesbian group Log Cabin Republicans named after Abraham Lincoln’s log cabin thrived. The push to integrate gays into the military deemed by the largely leftist gay movement of the 1970s to be a violation of the “rainbow coalition” against the military and war dominated US politics in 1993, long before it came to pass in Britain.

My own New Republic cover story, “A conservative case for gay marriage”, which argued along David Cameron lines that commitment and family should be valued among gays as well as straights, was published in America in 1989.

In 1996, there were two openly gay Republicans in Congress, three years before Michael Portillo’s statement about youthful “homosexual experiences”. One of those congressmen, Jim Kolbe, was re-elected to his seat 10 times and addressed the Republican convention in 2000.

The founder of modern American conservatism, Barry Goldwater, who ran for president in 1964, was a passionate supporter of gay rights in the early 1990s. When Bill Clinton botched the question of gays in the military in 1993, Goldwater quipped: “Everyone knows that gays have served honourably in the military since at least the time of Julius Caesar.” He added: “You don’t have to be straight to be in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight.”

(Photo: David McNew/Getty)