It’s a crime that we continue to import English conservatives to chat on the ABC when there’s at least a half dozen of us Australian, young conservatives here struggling to be heard over the Libertarians (like the Institute for Public Affairs and the Centre for Public Affairs) and the Religious Right. Last year, ABC’s Q&A program invited UK’s Brendan O’Neill to make crazy comments on air. ABC’s The Drum semi-regularly publishes his diatribes about Australian politics. This week, Q&A invited North America’s Mark Steyn (who is touring Australia with support from the aforementioned IPA). Steyn is well-known for his knuckle-dragging views about Islam (and he skirted on the edge of dipping into one of his rants on air), but when the topic turned to the issue of marriage equality, Steyn jumped into full flight. After mentioning:
MARK STEYN: There are actually a lot of… not a lot, but a significant number of conservatives who are pro gay marriage, particularly on the more libertarian side. There are people who think the States should have no determination on that. [Source: ABC television, Q&A 5 March 2012]
he leapt to:
Yeah, I’m basically saying that if the sex of the particular partner doesn’t matter, I think it’s hard to make the case the number doesn’t matter. My point is there are far more societies on earth in which polygamy is legalised than gay marriage. You fellows laugh at that! But in fact, if you go to large parts of the world, particularly the Muslim world, it is entirely normal for guys to have four wives. They think that’s normal and for two guys to be married is abnormal. So let’s all celebrate diversity and be multicultural here and try and look at it from the other fellow’s point of view. [Source: Ibid.]
Shorter version: ‘Because Muslims.’
Twitter went a bit nuts with comments about all conservatives being homophobic, &c., &c. It was also a bit of a shock for Steyn to say that it was only the libertarian end of the conservative spectrum that could handle the idea of marriage equality. As a young conservative of the crusty kind, I was a bit baffled by this assumption.
For me, the whole issue boils down to one question: ‘Are you homophobic?’ If you are homophobic, you will be against marriage equality. If you’re not homophobic, there is no argument against marriage equality. To be against marriage equality is to be homophobic.
It’s the sort of absolute statement which rubs people the wrong way. These sorts of statements get uncomfortable, awkward shifts by people who feel their flickering, tiny spark of homophobia should be protected against the winds of common sense. We see similar trends when discussing race and women’s issues. ‘Oh, it’s not racist. You’re being absolutist.’ ‘Oh, it’s not misogynistic. You’re being absolutist.’
As a conservative, marriage equality is not a problem because it accords with all of our traditional values (even if not with all of our traditional customs). We want people in love to be able to celebrate their love. We want family units to be protected, to be the first society a new person is welcomed into.
Conservatives have not historically had difficulty with homosexuality. Many old school conservatives were secretly homosexual (or, at the very least, had homosexual trysts). Most of the old conservatives were champions of the arts and patroned homosexual writers, painters, &c., &c. Conservatives protected high culture — with all of its homosexual themes — against the vulgar ravages of the working classes.
This is one of the problems I face constantly. The dialogue and narrative of conservatism has been fundamentally rewritten by the Religious Right. That angry, intolerant, American protestant way of engaging with the world has only recently become mainstream. The religious views of most of my conservative heroes range from mere deism through to vaguely disinterested civility.
It was more common throughout history for conservatives to be merely repressed. The ‘problem’ with homosexuals was not that they were gay, it was that they might be noisy about it. Conservative governments might have had anti-sodomy laws on the books, but actually enforcing those laws was an exception rather than a rule (and, usually, done for political reasons).
The ‘noisy’ comment wasn’t just about homosexuals either; during lengthy periods of conservative dominance, the ‘noisy’ thing related to anything related to sexuality. Marriage itself was a functional, property relationship, not a grandiose celebration of love and sex.
If you took the good old conservatives from the past and showed them how we celebrate marriage today, they’d mumble to themselves about values and how things just weren’t ‘done’. Frankly, I’d probably agree with them.
But this repressed attitude towards sexuality and love (done in private, kept out of view, not a public affair) can’t be healthy. It isn’t healthy. And yet even progressives continue to engage in the same sort of rhetoric: ‘Keep government out of bedrooms!’
The modern Religious Right cherry-picks its conservative views. It hates on marriage equality, but is quite at home with obscene and vulgar weddings. It’s happy to support non-traditional weddings: giant cakes, bankruptcy-inducing dresses, beach-weddings, &c., &c., but it’s not happy to support two people of the same sex getting married. There is no way to justify this inconsistency in conservative terms. The only way is to appeal to homophobic views (and veiled homophobic views).
The only question for the modern conservative is: Do we want to continue down the path of feeling shame and guilt about sex? We now have openly gay conservative politicians, so it seems like the time of shaming people for their sexual preferences should be left well in the past.