In a new book titled The Right Path, former Republican Congressman and current MSNBC host Joe Scarborough lays out a vision for politics, and the Republican party in particular, that is based not on ideology, but on pragmatism. The more ideological a particular candidate becomes, Scarborough argues, the more successful they become within their own party — but at the cost of becoming electable on a national level.
As society moves forward, issues once thought to be ideological now find themselves squarely in the pragmatic column. These are issues that are no longer painted red or blue and should no longer appear on a party platform. The sooner candidates from both parties identify these issues and move to expunge them from their rhetoric, the better.
For an overwhelming majority of Americans, equal protection of the laws for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, is one of those issues. In the last year, two Supreme Court decisions and ballot initiatives in several states have cemented a legal pattern toward greater equality and acceptance for same-sex marriage. Two weeks ago, the Justice Department announced it will publish a policy memo that administers equal protection for lawful, same-sex marriages to any and all of the services that it provides, which include everything from prison visits to courthouse proceedings.
In the face of such sweeping legal change, it’s important to remember that changes in the law must be accompanied by changes in culture for society to truly be more accepting. The last two weeks offer remarkable proof of that cultural shift.
First there was the Kansas State legislature, which nearly cemented its place in legislative purgatory when its House of Representatives passed, by a 72-49 vote, a bill that would legalize discrimination of same-sex couples by individuals or businesses that refuse them service on the basis of religious belief. After a storm of public outcry, the state Senate announced they would kill the bill in its current form. Though a majority of the senators support traditional marriage, the party leadership announced that they drew a firm line in the sand at discrimination.
Though the Kansas story is remarkable, it illustrates that even in the face of remarkable progress, we must always be cognizant of efforts by the dangerous minority to subvert the will of the majority. Ironically, the bill in question wasn’t even drafted in Kansas — it was written by the American Religious Freedom Program (whose views on the intersection of equality and religious liberty are clearly in the minority) in Washington, D.C.
In any case, the 72 elected officials who voted for the bill in the House should take some of their own medicine, particularly the medicine they freely distribute to the people of Kansas: It’s none of government’s business what you do in your private life, as long as it spends time and energy protecting you from people who want to make your life miserable.
Silence on the issue of equality is also soon to be as taboo as opposing the issue itself. As long as some states have constitutions that prohibit the right of gays to have equal protection under the laws, silence is still an ideological choice, not a practical one. It means those running for office have avoided talking about it because they’re uncomfortable with it, which means they can’t be counted on as allies when the time comes.
Ellen Page gave a speech at Human Rights Campaign’s “Time to Thrive” conference in Las Vegas over the weekend, in which she both came out as gay and offered support for those at the conference.
“I’m inspired to be in this room because every single one of you is here for the same reason,” Page said in her speech. “You’re here because you’ve adopted as a core motivation the simple fact that this world would be a whole lot better if we just made an effort to be less horrible to one another.”
No matter what, we’re on the right path.
Nathaniel Haas is a sophomore majoring in economics and political science. His column, “State of the Union,” runs Thursdays.