Same-Sex Marriage: Freedom Should Be the Central Issue in Debate


This week the Supreme Court heard s two cases regarding same-sex marriage and its attendant issues, and the battle lines are no longer neatly drawn.

Following the lead of former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, I signed the amicus brief opposing California’s Proposition 8, the 2008 state referendum codifying in the state constitution the view that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized.”

When asked why I added my name to the list, I simply reply: “You either believe in individual freedom or you don’t.”

Opposition to same-sex marriage is a continuation of a long-term cognitive dissonance that has infected my political party, the Republican Party. In my view, we can’t be the party of self-determination --— and then tell people who they can, and can’t, legally spend their lives with.

Like many Californians, I have many openly gay friends, and the idea of them choosing a partner is no longer conceptual for me. Abstractions are easy to judge; real people are not.

We only have to look as far as Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who recently reversed his position on the issue, or former Vice President Dick Cheney, who did the same thing several years ago. Both men were ahead of their time —-- or, at least, ahead of their party —-- for the same reason: love for one’s homosexual child trumped conservative orthodoxy.

Opponents of same-sex marriage claim, among other things, that the Bible specifically reproves homosexual conduct. It’s also true that Scripture teaches us that sex is precluded outside marriage and that physical unions have a higher purpose than physical pleasure. That noble concept is not at odds with same-sex marriage. It’s actually an argument in favor of it, as gay marriage is precisely the antidote to the kind of sex gays were forced to seek for many years.

Government policies that encourage family formation are precisely what conservative profess to be about --— and should be about. Moreover, what is “conservative” about professing that the judgments of the Lord must be enforced by the heavy hand of government?

If we decide to continue using social issues as a purity test, we will end up only further scarred and more distanced from voters we need and the country at large.

We as a party should view same-sex couples wanting to marry and rear children as good for the “family values” agenda. What is more family-oriented than monogamous, stable and happy homes? People build families and families build communities. Supporting these societal building blocks has been and should continue to be a foundational piece of the GOP.

It’s not as if heterosexual couples have a perfect track record on marriage. One of the tragedies of our time is how many American children are now born into, and grow up in, single-parent households.

The lead attorney for the forces seeking to have Proposition 8 declared unconstitutional is Ted Olson, an icon of the conservative bar. In earlier pleadings, he has argued that allowing same-sex couples to marry is not the end of marriage. It is an extension of an institution -- an expansion that it desperately needs. Our marriage and birth rates have fallen precipitously -- among straight couples.

Within the Republican Party, this issue has emerged as a litmus test that distinguishes the social conservatives from the more libertarian economic wing of the party. The bad news for Republicans is that we need both segments to win elections. The good news is that, although same-sex marriage does not yet enjoy majority support within the GOP, it will in time.

Regardless of party affiliation, young voters view gay marriage as utterly uncontroversial. With all of the other problems the country has to solve, the freedom of individuals to live their lives as they see fit seems a foregone conclusion.

Opinions are unlikely to change over the course of two days this week. The high court will take its time to decide the merits of the cases. Whatever the justices decide, we should look in our collective national mirror and ask ourselves: Are we a country, and a party, of more freedom or less?

This article was originally published on RealClearPolitics. 

Reed Galen is a political strategist in California. He was John McCain's Deputy Campaign Manager until July of 2007. He can be reached at