A forum intended to address whether LGBT people have a place in the conservative movement quickly gave way to discussion on the validity of same-sex marriage as a conservative value.
Gay conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan and Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage, presented opposite sides of the argument Wednesday during a Cato Institute forum in Washington, D.C.
Sullivan said he’s touted same-sex marriage as a conservative value since the publication of his 1995 book “Virtually Normal,” and noted that he remains “in favor of marriage rights rather than civil partnerships.”
“I believe that gay people are members, integral members, of our families, and we deserve not to be cast out or segregated from them as we grow old,” he said.
When gays realize their sexual orientation, Sullivan said, they suffer considerable psychological pain when they subsequently realize they won’t be able to marry.
“We were told as kids when we figured out we were gay and we knew that could never happen to us,” he said. “The psychic wound and pain that it inflicts — and still inflicts everyday on our children — destroys the psyche, warps the soul, destroys the soul.”
But Gallagher rejected the notion that same-sex marriage could be considered a conservative value, citing majority opposition to gay nuptials in national polling.
“Somewhere between 55 to 60 percent — even if they support gay rights — think this marriage thing is something else, gay marriage is not right,” she said.
Gallagher also decried that people in the United States who believe marriage should only be between one man and one woman are accused of being bigots.
“People are waking up in a American where suddenly their deepest core moral convictions — they’re being told are immoral and should be the legal equivalent of racism,” she said. “It’s pretty striking and people are pretty scared.”
Arguing that not all gays are in support of same-sex marriage, Gallagher said she knows openly gay people who’ve worked for NOM and believe that same-sex couples shouldn’t have marriage rights. When pressed by Sullivan to names these individuals — arguing they couldn’t be outed if they’re openly gay — Gallagher declined.
Also in her argument against same-sex marriage, Gallagher lamented the Catholic Church’s recent decision to close its foster services in D.C. now that marriage rights for gay couples will soon be available in the district.
In response, Sullivan noted that divorce has always been available in D.C., and the Catholic Church had run a foster agency in the district even though divorce runs contrary to Catholic beliefs.
But the primary focus on the forum — titled “Is There a Place for Gay People in Conservatism and Conservative Politics?” — was whether gays belong in the conservative movement, particularly if they’re concerned about the advancement of LGBT rights.
Nick Herbert, a gay member of British Parliament and the country’s Conservative Party, said his party has made considerable headway in reaching out to LGBT people, even going so far as to apologize for the party’s past hostility toward them.
Herbert said the Conservative Party has adopted acceptance of gays because of the tenet of democracy that all people are created equal.
“Conservatives should always believe that everyone should have an equal chance in life, regardless of any other factors, and that they should not be discriminated against,” he said.
Herbert said a successful political party should be open to everyone and reflect the country it aspires to govern. He noted that if the Conservative Party secures a majority in the House of Commons by one just seat in the upcoming election, the party would likely have more openly gay ministers serving in government than the Labor Party.
Herbert said although he’s a conservative, he supports hate crimes legislation in his country and he rejects legislation that would prohibit same-sex couples from adopting. He also noted that Conservative Party leader David Cameron endorsed civil partnerships as relationship recognition for same-sex couples.
“Gay people are not the property of the left, or of any party,” he said. “They will vote for the political party which best sits with their views, so long as that party does not make itself taboo.”
But Gallagher expressed skepticism about whether gays could be involved in the American conservative movement if they’re seeking new laws that would require religious people to tolerate gays.
Gallagher also said she didn’t think the British model for conservatism would fit well in the United States and that she didn’t know many American conservatives who would like their movement to be more like the movement in the United Kingdom.
“With all due respect, I’m not here to say what a British conservative should believe, but it seems to me that America remains a unique place for the protection of liberty, or classical liberalism, which I share,” she said.
But Sullivan maintained that gays in American can identify as conservatives, even though he said the Republican Party doesn’t embraced conservatism.
“I do not see the connection between being gay and whether you are in favor of the Iraq war,” he said. “I simply do not see a connection between being gay and whether you believe in a carbon tax rather than cap-and-trade.”
Sullivan decried how the Republican Party in recent years had taken upon itself to demonize LGBT people to win elections — particularly in 2004 when former President George W. Bush endorsed the Federal Marriage Amendment.
At the forum’s end, Sullivan gave a few barbed responses to questions from the audience. The moderator asked Sullivan, who endorsed President Obama in the 2008 in the election, how conservatives can support the president even though Obama supports government expansion.
Sullivan said he wouldn’t answer because it has no relevance to topic of the forum.
“That’s an utterly irrelevant question to this conversation,” he said. “I won’t answer it. I’m happy to answer it at some other level, but it’s so utterly unrelated to the subject we’re talking about, I think it’s a preposterous question.”
Additionally, Sullivan rebuked an accusation from audience member Jamie Kirchick, a writer for The New Republic, who said Sullivan doesn’t “speak for gay conservatives.”
Kirchick noted the significant number of gays who said in exit polls they voted for Republican nominee John McCain in the 2008 election.
Sullivan said was very clear in his book “The Conservative Soul” in how he adheres to conservatism and that he’s been studying the works of conservative intellectuals for some time.
“I think a know a little bit more about it than Jamie Kirchick, to be honest, and I do not believe the conservative movement as it now exists in America has a place for a conservative like me,” Sullivan said. “But I do refuse to give up the term conservative because it’s something that I believe in.”