Speaking on Fox News Channel’s The Five, pundit Greg Gutfeld said that “gay marriage, in my opinion, is a conservative idea.” He noted that the left “generally hates traditions” and is all about “breaking with traditions,” and that gay marriage offers conservatives an opportunity to “embrace a tradition” that strengthens families and communities.
I should acknowledge that Gutfeld spoke without notes, unscripted, live and off-the-cuff. I often talk with inexactness when I’m speaking live. Live speaking is a perfect venue to make mistakes. It’s easier to type your thoughts and have the benefit of reflection, revision, and a word processor.
That said, let’s go with Gutfeld’s words, because they do represent a position held by some conservatives, and especially younger conservatives.
With all respect to Greg Gutfeld, who I usually agree with, gay marriage is absolutely not a conservative idea. Not unless, as liberals do with marriage, one redefines conservatism.
How is that? What is conservatism? That itself can be problematic. If you ask 10 self-identified conservatives for a definition, you might get 10 different answers. This much, however, can be said:
Conservatism aims to conserve the time-tested values, ideas, and principles that have been sustained over time by previous generations and traditions. (Here, a crucial correction to Greg Gutfeld: gay marriage is not a tradition.) These are values, ideas, and principles—usually with a Judeo-Christian basis—that have endured for good reason and for the best of society, citizens, country, culture, and order. That’s a brief summation that the late Russell Kirk, probably conservatism’s preeminent philosophical spokesman, would endorse—as would Ronald Reagan, the face of modern conservatism.
In an important speech at CPAC in February 1977, Reagan stated this: “Conservative wisdom and principles are derived from willingness to learn, not just from what is going on now, but from what has happened before. The principles of conservatism are sound because they are based on what men and women have discovered through experience in not just one generation or a dozen, but in all the combined experience of mankind. When we conservatives say that we know something about political affairs, and that we know can be stated as principles, we are saying that the principles we hold dear are those that have been found, through experience, to be ultimately beneficial for individuals, for families, for communities and for nations—found through the often bitter testing of pain or sacrifice and sorrow.”
That’s a solid definition of conservatism. Gay marriage, merely by its total newness alone, fails that rudimentary definition. Gay marriage has never been done before. One would never expect a conservative to rush into something as utterly unprecedented—and that directly repudiates the laws of nature and nature’s God—as this completely novel concept called “gay marriage.” Same-sex marriage not only revolutionizes marriage but also human nature generally and family specifically, the latter of which conservatives have always understood as the fundamental building block of civilization.
One would expect a progressive to support redefining marriage, because for progressives, everything is always in a state of never-ending, always-evolving flux. Progressives have no trouble rendering unto themselves the ability to redefine human life itself. Redefining marriage is small potatoes. A progressive can wake up tomorrow and conjure up a new “right” over a grande skim latte at Starbucks. For secular progressives especially, there is no absolute, set standard for things like marriage or, really, even for right or wrong. They are relativists who don’t subscribe to established absolutes. Redefine marriage? Sure, says the progressive. Redefine family, parenthood, motherhood, fatherhood, womanhood, manhood, gender? Sure, says the progressive.
For conservatives, however, this is unthinkable. Indeed, a conservative cannot even “conserve” when it comes to gay marriage, because gay marriage is an untried idea unimaginable by any people until only very recent days.
To be sure, conservatives, especially those whose conservatism springs from religious underpinnings, should recognize and respect the inherent human dignity of all gay people—being fellow human beings made in the image of God—and should not mistreat them. But those conservatives cannot, in turn, blatantly violate (if not blaspheme) the teachings of their faith and their God on the sanctity of male-female matrimony.
As I write this, I implore readers to please understand that I’ve dealt with this issue at length. Last year, I did a book called 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative. When I did the speaking tour, I spoke to many young conservatives. Gay marriage came up constantly. My latest book, just released, explores the deeply disturbing ideological history of those who sought to outright abolish marriage and family. In that book, Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage, I detail how the goal of fundamentally transforming family and marriage has been a staple of the far left for two centuries, from Marx and Engels to cultural Marxists in the Frankfurt School to ’60s radicals to progressives today.
The point: a radical leftist is eagerly willing to remake marriage and family in his own image, but a conservative is not. To the contrary, the task of the conservative is to fight that rebellion, to affirm and defend and preserve and conserve the natural-traditional-biblical family—i.e., that time-tested institution that Reagan called “the most important unit in society,” “the most durable of all institutions,” “the nucleus of civilization,” “the cornerstone of American society.” And children, said Reagan, “belong in a family” with a mom and dad. In fact, Reagan maintained that it is in a family that children are not only cared for but “taught the moral values and traditions that give order and stability to our lives and to society as a whole.” America’s families must “preserve and pass on to each succeeding generation the values we share and cherish.” Above all, Reagan stated that our “concept of the family” “must withstand the trends of lifestyle and legislation.”
And yet, gay marriage is no mere trend of lifestyle and legislation. By breaking the ancient Western standard of marriage between one man and one woman, it will forever alter our concept of family that has formed the nucleus of civilization.
I’ll wrap up with a key question that I get asked all the time by conservatives on this issue: Can one still be a conservative and support gay marriage?
I’d have to say that if someone is conservative on 90 out of 100 issues, but gay marriage isn’t one of them, that person probably ought to still be regarded as a conservative—albeit with a really skewed misunderstanding of how gay marriage fits their conservative worldview.
But while some conservatives will support gay marriage, gay marriage is flatly not a conservative position.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His latest book is Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage. His other books include 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative.