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Gay marriage is conservative

BY CHRISTOPHER PATTON | APRIL 03, 2009 7:30 AM

By the time most people are reading this column, the Iowa Supreme Court will have announced its decision in the contentious case of Varnum v. Brien. If the court rules that the state Constitution requires it, Iowa will soon become the latest state to grant full marriage equality to gays and lesbians.

As a politically opinionated writer who is openly gay, I’ve already produced plenty of words in favor of granting legal recognition to gay marriages. At this point I have no interest in preaching to the choir. Today, I will participate in a rally in favor of marriage equality, and there will be more than enough opportunity for that then. Instead, I am offering this column as an open letter to conservatives who oppose gay marriage. I intend this to be a sincere attempt to persuade such Iowans to reconsider their opinions. So, if you are one of those people, please try to bear with me and read the following argument with an open mind. Hopefully, I’ll be able to at least get you to think about this issue in a new way.

Though this may initially seem counterintuitive, I sincerely believe that being in favor of legal recognition of gay marriage is a conservative position. Those who most deeply value and respect the institution of marriage in our society should logically be at the forefront of the marriage-equality movement.

But setting aside the issue of marriage rights for a moment, social conservatives generally have other problems with gay people. Perhaps the most negative stereotype common in the minds those who believe homosexuality to be the result of defective morals or a psychological disorder is that homosexuals are inherently promiscuous. Gays, like our straight peers, exist along a spectrum when it comes to sexual activity. Some people have sex with a large number of different partners; others do not, whether they are straight, gay, or anything else. How many sexual partners one has over the course of one’s life is a choice.

What’s not a choice is the sex of people one is attracted to. I’ve always found it a bit odd that anyone could actually think otherwise.

Especially for those who find homosexual activity to be in some way disturbing, it’s very strange to assert that many people would be likely to consciously decide to engage in that activity. Furthermore, given that rates of homosexuality are relatively similar throughout most of the world, the notion that individuals living in such a diverse variety of cultures would coincidentally make such similar decisions is barely plausible. Even if environmental factors during fetal development and early childhood play a role in determining sexual orientation, as they likely do, it seems increasingly probable that genetics are also key. Homosexuality is simply a fact of life.

However, as I’ve already noted, people’s sexual behaviors are fully within their own control.
Some social conservatives accept that homosexuality is a fully natural phenomenon but still maintain that choosing to engage in homosexual activity is immoral. Virtually the only reason to think this way is if one subscribes to a worldview that is intertwined with one of several religious texts. But those texts will never be persuasive to people who don’t already accept both their sacred status and a particular interpretation of their meaning. Arguments based on such a foundation are not persuasive in mainstream political debate given that a substantial number of people in America today do not buy into such a worldview.

And most gay people are unwilling to accept the idea that we’re obligated to be celibate. That’s an unfair and unreasonable demand. Therefore, the relevant question is not how to prevent homosexual sex, but how to healthily integrate it into society. Without any doubt, granting legal recognition to gay marriages is the best way to do so.

If a person is genuinely concerned with the health, safety, and general well-being of gays and lesbians, then he or she should support marriage equality. The type of committed, long-term relationships that the institution of marriage encourages are far better for people than is a promiscuous lifestyle — for physical and psychological reasons. Thus, truly compassionate conservatives ought to be in favor of gay marriage.


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