February, 24th 2009

Steele loses me on civil unions

– Liz Mair

Andrew Sullivan, much reviled among conservatives but still someone I consider a friend and whose writing I continue to read (even if I don't always agree with his points) notes this exchange involving new RNC Chairman Michael Steele, on the subject of civil unions:

GALLAGHER: Is this a time when Republicans ought to consider some sort of alternative to redefining marriage and maybe in the road, down the road to civil unions. Do you favor civil unions?

STEELE: No, no no. What would we do that for? What are you, crazy? No. Why would we backslide on a core, founding value of this country? I mean this isn't something that you just kind of like, "Oh well, today I feel, you know, loosey-goosey on marriage." [...]

GALLAGHER: So no room even for a conversation about civil unions in your mind?

STEELE: What's the difference?

Look, I like Michael Steele.  A lot, actually.  He's a very nice guy, a great communicator, generally is and has been more open to divergent views within the party than many others (though I'd hasten to point out that was plenty true of other candidates for RNC Chairman also), etc., etc.  However, on this, I have to say, we're not at all on the same page.[intro]  Not only do I support civil unions (and heck, actual gay marriage, too), but I simply don't believe that marriage as a union between one man and one woman is a "core, founding value of this country"-- at least not in the way that, say, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and so on and so forth are.  Separate to that, there are plenty of values and beliefs that I would argue were strongly and widely held at the time of this country's founding, and which we now believe are wholly and entirely wrong.  An example that springs to mind is the belief that women should not be entitled to vote, or that some people could, in fact, be the property of others.

For the record, I am not saying that people who oppose gay marriage and/or civil unions are equivalent, morally or otherwise, to our ancestors who largely viewed women as inherently inferior, or indeed those who believed slavery was a good and justifiable thing.  I'm not.  What I am saying is that arguing that a particular institution should retain the same definition, or that a particular status should only be conferred on a certain group because that accords with the beliefs of our country's founders and, well, their beliefs are the be-all-and-end-all, is not an inherently good argument.  These were good people, with many good ideas, but still a few bad ones as well.  Ultimately, things change, and beliefs shift over time-- sometimes for the good, and sometimes for the bad.  It's up to us to make decisions about what we want to permit here and now based on something more than what can be deemed a "core, founding value of this country"-- say, for example, whether a particular change involves a potential extension of opportunities (which most Americans, I think, believe is a good thing as a general concept) or a potential weakening of an institution that we today view as inherently valuable because that's how we see it, and not just because it was also seen that way two-hundred-and-some years ago

If Steele had made an argument about, say, bolstering families by keeping marriage and marriage-like institutions the exclusive preserve of monogamous, heterosexual couples, I'd still disagree with him, but I'd have somewhat more respect for the argument.  And yes, ultimately, I'd prefer it if the GOP could get away from opposition to allowing committed gay couples to gain legal recognition for their relationships.  I'm married, and I think marriage is a good thing, for many, many reasons.  I'd like for my gay friends to be able to partake in it, also for many, many reasons.  Suggesting that shouldn't happen because of what was a core, founding value of our country, without an accompanying assessment of whether that core, founding value was, in fact, a good one or a bad one is just silly and makes for a bad argument, if you ask me.




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