How big a tent?

Last week John wrote about the controversy to which GOProud;’s participation at the annual CPAC event has given rise. John invoked the metaphor of the “big tent” embracing economic, national security, and social conservatism as parts of the conservative movement. John noted GOProud spokesman Christopher Barron’s appearance on MSNBC and heard him espousing a conservatism that, he implied, belonged somewhere under the big tent. “If Barron speaks for GOProud, as I assume he does,” John wrote, “they are a welcome and potentially powerful part of our conservative movement.”

Looking around the GOProud site, the organization appears to integrate traditional conservative limited government goals with a homosexual rights agenda. Its legislative priorities include repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell and opposition to “any anti-gay federal marriage amendment.” I can’t find the group’s position on gay marriage otherwise noted on the site, but I infer from the group’s formulation of the position on a federal marriage amendment that opposition to gay marriage is deemed “anti-gay” by definition.

The rationale of GOProud appears to be the advocacy of a homosexual rights agenda within an otherwise conservative framework. “What is GOProud?” The organization answers that “GOProud represents gay conservatives and their allies.” I’m drawing the inference, but, again, the implication is that allies of gay conservatives are conservatives who support the agenda of homosexual rights.

I doubt that the big tent can be quite this big. The Republican Party was founded in the belief that it was “the imperative duty of Congress to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism — Polygamy, and Slavery,” as the party platform of 1856 put it. Utah would not be welcome in the Union until Mormons ditched their devotion to plural marriages.

GOProud takes us back to an issue whose arguments we have mostly forgotten. Charles Krauthammer connects homosexual marriage and polygamy by the logic supporting each. He notes that “it is utterly logical for polygamy rights to follow gay rights. After all, if traditional marriage is defined as the union of (1) two people of (2) opposite gender, and if, as advocates of gay marriage insist, the gender requirement is nothing but prejudice, exclusion and an arbitrary denial of one’s autonomous choices in love, then the first requirement — the number restriction (two and only two) — is a similarly arbitrary, discriminatory and indefensible denial of individual choice.”

That doesn’t answer the question why homosexual marriage and polygamy should be opposed in the first place. Indeed, Krauthammer leaves himself open to the argument for homosexual marriage. As I say, this is a subject with respect to which we have mostly forgotten the arguments, which inevitably lead back to nature and nature’s God, as set forth in one of those mysterious documents whose age exceeds one hundred years.

There is a reason why the advocates of homosexual rights have found their home within modern liberalism. I’m not looking to pick any fights within the conservative movement, but I think the founders of the Republican Party had it right, both with respect to slavery and polygamy. By the same token, to the extent that a conservative group advocates the homosexual rights agenda, I think it is mistaken. It should be opposed even if we welcome the group’s support in resisting the rest of the liberal agenda.

PAUL adds: I agree with Scott and Charles Krauthammer that, as a matter of logic, it makes sense that a right to polygamy follows from a right to gay marriage. But, as Scott recongizes, the debate over gay marriage isn’t just a debate about logic.

One major consideration in the debate as it has unfolded is the impact that state recognition of gay marriage would have on the institution of marriage. Many opponents argue that the institution would be harmed. Proponents counter that the impact would be nil or maybe even positive.

If the state were to embrace polygamy, the institution of marriage would almost certainly be affected. And the impact of such an embrace cannot be assumed to mirror the impact of legalizing gay marriage; in fact I assume the impact would be different, though quite possibly in the same direction. Thus, for those like me who view both debates as involving not just logic and nature, but also a weighing of likely consequences, the two issues diverge.

I should also add that I find little merit in one of the frequently used consequentialist arguments in favor of gay marriage – the argument that, as Krauthammer puts it, “astronomical rates of divorce and of single parenthood (the deliberate creation of fatherless families) existed before there was a single gay marriage. . . .” The fact that traditional marriage is in trouble for reasons having nothing to do with the gay rights movement, or polygamy, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t consider the distinct possibility that state recognition of gay marriage, or polygamy, would make things worse.

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