Ted Olson Makes a ’Conservative Case for Gay Marriage’
Ted Olson, the conservative lawyer who represented presidential candidate George W. Bush before the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore in 2000, has flummoxed the political right by taking up a challenge to the constitutionality of California’s anti-gay voter initiative amendment, Proposition 8, which in November of 2008 rescinded the existing right of gay and lesbian families in that state to marry.
Olson, who served Ronald Reagan as Assistant Attorney general before serving as George W. Bush’s Solicitor General, sought to explain himself in an essay titled "The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage" that appeared in the Jan. 18 edition of Newsweek, and which was posted at newsweek.com on Jan. 9.
Subtitled, "Why same-sex marriage is an American value," the essay addressed a question Olson knew to be on the minds not only of conservatives, but also liberals: "How could a politically active, lifelong Republican, a veteran of the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, challenge the ’traditional’ definition of marriage and press for an "activist" interpretation of the Constitution to create another ’new’ constitutional right?
"My answer to this seeming conundrum," Olson’s essay continued, "rests on a lifetime of exposure to persons of different backgrounds, histories, viewpoints, and intrinsic characteristics, and on my rejection of what I see as superficially appealing but ultimately false perceptions about our Constitution and its protection of equality and fundamental rights.
"Many of my fellow conservatives have an almost knee-jerk hostility toward gay marriage," Olson noted. "This does not make sense, because same-sex unions promote the values conservatives prize. Marriage is one of the basic building blocks of our neighborhoods and our nation. At its best, it is a stable bond between two individuals who work to create a loving household and a social and economic partnership."
Olson addressed criticisms that conservatives have leveled at gays who seek marriage rights. Conservatives charge that gays seek to place their own "pleasure" above family and the needs of children; Olson boiled down the sentiment of family as central to marriage, and re-stated the idea that marriage is central to society--but from the perspective that allow gays to participate in marriage will strengthen society, not endanger it.
"Marriage requires thinking beyond one’s own needs," noted Olson. "It transforms two individuals into a union based on shared aspirations, and in doing so establishes a formal investment in the well-being of society. The fact that individuals who happen to be gay want to share in this vital social institution is evidence that conservative ideals enjoy widespread acceptance. Conservatives should celebrate this, rather than lament it.
"Legalizing same-sex marriage would also be a recognition of basic American principles, and would represent the culmination of our nation’s commitment to equal rights," Olson continued. "It is, some have said, the last major civil-rights milestone yet to be surpassed in our two-century struggle to attain the goals we set for this nation at its formation.
"This bedrock American principle of equality is central to the political and legal convictions of Republicans, Democrats, liberals, and conservatives alike," Olson argued, before going on to offer a very brief overview of the history of civil equality in America. "The very idea of marriage is basic to recognition as equals in our society," Olson concluded; "any status short of that is inferior, unjust, and unconstitutional."