According to CNN’s publication of the 2010 Midterm Election exit polls, 31 percent of gay, lesbian, and bisexual voters chose Republican candidates. GOProud, a political advocacy group that represents gay conservatives, recognizes the wrong-headedness of the assumption that non-heterosexual Americans vote liberal. GOProud’s recent co-sponsorship of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference last month introduced some diehard conservatives to a reality check—gay conservatives deserve a seat at the political table.
GOProud carves out a unique structural hole in both the conservative and gay political worlds. Christopher R. Barron and Jimmy LaSalvia, who both have held Log Cabin Republican directorships, founded GOProud in 2009 after arguing that Log Cabin Republican interests were too narrow and played handmaiden to liberal activists. GOProud ensures that gay conservatives have a seat at the table beyond representing LGBTQ rights, though some have criticized the organization for being too conservative. Indeed, unlike the Log Cabin Republicans, GOProud believes that state-level voters should decide marriage policy and argued that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which aims to protect non-heterosexual Americans, usurps state rights.
But rather than welcome a new addition to the conservative family, a small handful of conservative organizations pulled out of CPAC partly due to the inclusion of GOProud.
Traditional organizations justifiably maintain that the public purpose of marriage is to connect every child to a father and a mother and that marriage is inherently conjugal. But given their recent history, it is ironic that the very same traditional marriage advocates who have recently been marginalized in the public sphere sought to do the same to gay conservatives on conservative home turf.
It should first be mentioned that there is more behind these groups’ “boycott” of CPAC than the term would initially suggest. Contrary to popular reports, the Family Research Council effectively pulled out of CPAC a few years ago. The Heritage Foundation has been increasingly concerned about CPAC’s libertarian influences on social and defense issues. To complicate a delicate state of affairs, GOProud co-founder Christopher R. Barron called CPAC sponsor and American Conservative Union Foundation Chairman Cleta Mitchell “a nasty bigot,” among other unflattering comments.
But it is precisely the language of bigotry that should compel traditionalists to welcome GOProud (and Log Cabin Republicans, for that matter). In a heartfelt moment, the two camps might even feel a fair bit of camaraderie–both face remarkable pressure in the public sphere. Boycotting CPAC due to the presence of gay conservatives is akin to what traditionalists accuse liberal progressives of doing—censoring public discourse under the guise of virtue.
Traditionalists observe that some gay marriage advocates have attempted to marginalize opponents instead of participating in a public debate based on good will and intellectual integrity. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s unreasonable declaration that the Family Research Council is a hate group is one example of marginalization. Simplistically labeling traditionalists as mere hateful religionists asserts that they have no claim to reason. Constant recourse to the words “homophobic” and “hateful” is a symbolic attempt to silence those who oppose gay marriage. Homophobia certainly exists. But calling anyone who does not support gay marriage homophobic or hateful is an intimidation tactic; it is not a strategy for rational understanding.
As scholars, we are compelled to resist the proclivity to categorize all that we disagree with under a powerful, misleading, and discussion-halting word. Intimidation rarely works when used against an impassioned, good-willed people, and rightly so. But people use it nonetheless. At CPAC, the traditionalist boycotts essentially attempted to edge GOProud out of the conversation. Similarly, intimidation is a tactic wielded against traditional marriage supporters not so infrequently on Harvard’s own campus.
Democracy does not demand that we silence our opinions or our labels; vehement debate is the hallmark of democracy. But the language of bigotry and accusations that the other side is “hateful” is not vehement debate. It is not debate at all; it is opprobrium. Instead of adopting intimidation tactics, traditionalists should put down their pamphlets and set up GOProud’s booth (and then lend a hand to those at the National Organization for Marriage). Traditionalists have come under much duress in the public sphere and would do well to fiercely defend candid public discourse.
Whether we are traditionalists or progressives, we have the sincerest duty to seek out diversity of opinion and respect other’s beliefs. We should not taint our own beliefs under the gavel of intimidation. The contest of values is real and significant, and the stakes are high. But the contest of values can only be won where both sides are fairly represented, be it in Harvard Yard or at conservative gatherings. True scholars do not attempt to silence the opposition but rather to listen actively with graciousness—and mindful wariness. In the words of G.K. Chesterton, "It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong."
Rachel L. Wagley ’11 is a sociology concentrator in Quincy house. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.