Why Conservatives Care About Marriage Protection Amendment

Steve Bainbridge sees no reason why the Senate’s meaningless non-vote on the Marriage Protection Amendment, the amendment itself, should “energize conservative voters.”

While I can find no rational reason for government to deny homosexuals the opportunity to marry and am a “conservative” on this particular issue only insofar as I oppose grandstanding by politicians to score political points, I can certainly understand why conservatives would want the amendment.

Bainbridge looks at the base and argues why each segment should oppose this action.

  • Federalists: This part of the base looks at this amendment and sees yet another expansion of the federal government. Marriage is a state issue, but the K Street Gang has spent much of the last 6 years federalizing a whole host of state issues. The only possible justification for federal action would be to prevent the Supreme Court from effecting gay marriage by judicial fiat. A federalist, however, likely would prefer to wait and see rather than preemptively intruding the federal government into this area.

This was arguably true before Massachussets judges made real the theoretical possibility of gay marriage being imposed by judicial fiat. While it’s probably true that this action will have no direct effect outside the Commonwealth because the Full Faith and Credit Clause has been deemed inapplicable, a whole Pandora’s Box of socio-political issues has been opened. That essentially makes marriage a federal case. Further, waiting until after federal judges have turned the culture on its head is rather like closing the barn door after the horses have escaped.

  • Libertarians: Marriage isn’t any business of the government. Maybe there should be some sort of domestic partnership contract between persons of any gender that would be enforceable in court, but that’s as far as government ought to go.

Sure. But the institution of marriage predates the idea of individual liberty, let alone libertarians. While I prefer the libertarian position on this as a matter of theory, it is an absolute non-starter politically.

  • Suburban swing voters: Probably turned off by yet another example of alleged GOP “intolerance.”

The GOP needs to re-connect with the conservative base before it can reach out to swing voters.

  • Social conservatives who support carving the traditional man-woman concept of marriage into legal stone: Isn’t striking how President Bush and the Congressional GOP largely ignored these folks’ concerns until Bush was in an almost irretrievable mess? How dumb does Karl Rive think social conservatives are? I suspect many will recognize that this amendment is mere pandering from a Washington GOP elite that sees social conservatives as useful pawns but refuses to take the social conservative agenda seriously.

A fair point. Ronald Reagan didn’t exactly do much to prevent abortions, either, but that hasn’t stopped it from being a GOP rallying cry the last 32 years.

Beating the Democrats over the head with the Amendment, while meaningless from a policy standpoint, will rally far more presently alienated conservatives and blue collar swing voters than it will alienate. Like illegal immigration and gas prices, gay marriage is a visceral issue that motivates people at their core. Red State Democrats are deathly afraid of it (as are Blue State Republicans).

FILED UNDER: Congress, LGBTQ Issues, Supreme Court, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. RA says:

    No one is preventing a male homosexual from getting married. They just have to find a woman who will have them. LOL

    Calling these perverted shackups “married” is giving them respect and status they don’t deserve. Marriage is to protect the children and the family from just this kind of humanist, destructive behavior.

  2. For me, the issue is judges should interpret law, not make policy decisions. While I can understand the federalism argument, this is less about gay marriage to me and more about curbing judicial enthusiasm to run things.

  3. The problem is not so much that gay people want to get married. The problem is that married people are afforded a certain social status purely because they are married, and they are given preferential treatment on the basis of that status.

    The obvious example used is insurance: when I marry a woman, I get to add that woman to my insurance plan under a whole set of special rules that are available for a limited time ONLY when I get married.

    However, when two men are going to live together for the duration of their natural lives by mutual consent, they both need to have their own insurance. Have you ever talked to an insurance company about adding your friend Bob to your insurance? You can’t do it. Bob needs his OWN insurance plan. You could try to convince someone to sell you a group plan, but good luck with that when your group is two people. (My business had eight, and we couldn’t get group rates from any decent insurance carrier.)

    The issue here is that there is already a massive body of law dictating the fair treatment of one’s life partner, we just call that partnership “marriage”. By winning one major battle to allow gay marriage, this massive body of law comes with it, instead of requiring thousands of new minor battles to be fought over how we handle a “civil union”.

    I honestly don’t think it’s worth fighting this battle. Just let them get married. Who cares? What happens if they can get married? They already live together, advertise their lifestyle, and adopt children. I think all the damage they can do is pretty much done, and the only question now is whether people think the straight community is a bunch of jerks.

    Gay marriage is the religious right’s Vietnam. You can’t win. Pull the troops out already.

  4. DaveD says:

    For me, the Federal Constitution should not be used to limit the rights of the people. It should remain what it is – a document that describes the basic framework of our government and clarifies the rights of the people. The prohibition amendment which I would also consider an item that limits the rights of the people has been justifiably repealed. As a conservative I have come to believe this is an issue as CD described it above.

  5. Caliban,

    The point you miss is not the merits for or against changing the laws to allow gay marriage, rather how it is to be done. Do the political groundwork to lay out your case, win legislators to your side and have it passed into legislation. While there will be a hard core group who will gripe about it, it will be accepted (even if not liked) by the majority. Because all sides would have had their say.

    Get the US supreme court to approve gay marriage without the public debate that would go with legislation, and you sow the seeds for the democrats to become a permanent minority party (which in politics probably means 10 to 20 years out of power). You need to distinguish the means from the ends. No matter how much you like the ends, using the wrong means can create a huge political backlash.

    p.s. What was the Alabama result on the state constitution ban vote last night? Are you sure its political suicide?

  6. Anderson says:

    This was arguably true before Massachussets judges made real the theoretical possibility of gay marriage being imposed by judicial fiat.

    Pooh. Either the court interpreted the state constitution correctly, or it didn’t.

    If it didn’t, then the voters can (1) refuse to re-elect the judges (or the legislators who appointed them, however MA does it), and (2) amend their constitution to make their anti-gay position crystal-clear.

    What’s so hard about that? Or could it be that it’s just a MINORITY of people who care enough about opposing gay marriage to follow through?

    Because if it’s such a majority position as we hear, then amending the state constitutions should be a breeze. Right?

  7. James Joyner says:

    Anderson: Amending a state constitution typically requires rather onerous procedures; it’s not simply a 50% plus one issue. And, certainly, the Mass. constitution was never meant to institutionalize homosexual marriage, something that had always been expressly forbidden by law.

  8. jpe says:

    That essentially makes marriage a federal case.

    I don’t see how a state ruling becomes a federal case because you don’t like the outcome. (which is basically what you’re saying) Re: federal judges: fine. Limit the reach of the amendment to federal judges.

    The FMA as it stands tramples on federalism.

  9. James Joyner says:

    jpe: From a pure public policy standpoint–i.e., the outcome–I think they got it right. But it’s lousy process.

    The reason I think it makes it a federal issue is that, realistically, if these people have been married for say, 5 years, in Mass. and then move to Georgia, we’re going to really pretend that they’re not married and deny them all the rights associated? That strikes me as untenable. Ultimately, you’re either married in the United States or you’re not.

  10. Dave says:


    Here’s my problem with the amendment.

    Most people are against gay marriage. In fact, the latest poll shows that 58 percent of Americans are supportive of only traditional marriage. That makes the traditional-marriage-only stance a winning issue for the GOP with a broad center-right majority of the country.

    So what does the GOP establishment do? It trots out a constitutional amendment that would enshrine this view of marriage in the Constitution, a mechanism that only has the support of 42 percent of Americans. In so doing, Republicans have ceded a position that most Americans support (no gay marriage) in favor of one that most Americans oppose (no gay marriage because the Constitution says so!).

    This seems to me, and I’m being polite here, to be the height of idiocy. The Democrats are clearly neutral or ambivalent on the gay marriage issue. The Kossites crucify any candidate who takes a strong traditional marriage stand. As Republicans, why can’t we simply sit back and support traditional marriage nominally, giving vocal support for the state bans, and contrast our position with the Democrats, who don’t know where they stand on the issue? That would place the GOP well within the 58 percent of the voting population that favors traditional marriage, and not just the 42 percent that favors an amendment. What am I missing here?

  11. Christopher says:

    James, why do u have to find a reason for govt. to deny something like gay marriage just because there is no law on the books already specifically denying it? The norm is for homos and lez’s NOT to be married. End of story. Just because some freaks want to get married and there is no “law” saying they can’t is a horrible reason for all this debate.

    Marriage has always been between a man and a women. That’s that. Cheated out of bennies? Too darn bad! Want to be gay? Fine. It’s a free country and I don’t really care. Want to be married? NO!

  12. Bithead says:

    What has been happening , and what the amendment is in response to, is the attempt by some to use the power of government to alter the existing culture and its values. This clearly, is something the government was never supposed to do, if we, as I do, assume that the purpose of government was to be a tool to support the culture that gave it to life.

    That point aside for a moment; it has been said, most notably in Newsweek magazine, that this issue is a religious one in which government plays no part. I suggest that the polling data we have all been witness to, reports otherwise. Consider; only about 50 to 55% depending on who’s doing the poll, of the American people consider themselves to be particularly religions, and attend services each week. On the other hand, the objection to homosexual marriage , has been running on the order of 90% on the whole.

    Clearly, there is something more than simply religious belief at work here. That’s something, is culture, of which religion is but a part.

  13. anjin-san says:

    One of the definitions of a “conservative” is that they don’t want government telling people how to live…

  14. anjin-san says:

    Why do I get the feeling that “want to be married? NO” is something Christopher keeps hearing from women?

  15. James Joyner says:

    One of the definitions of a �conservative� is that they don�t want government telling people how to live. – anjin-san

    It’s an incorrect definition, though. Just because some libertarians call themselves “conservative” does not make it true. Conservatism is, at its core, the use of government to protect society, including its cultural-moral norms.