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Marriage Equality Is a Conservative Cause

The party of Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan has now lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. The marketplace of ideas will render us irrelevant, and soon, if we are not honest about our time and place in history. Unfortunately, much of the discussion has focused on cosmetic solutions to, say, our underperformance among ethnic and young voters. This is a mistake: we cannot cross this river by feeling for stones. Instead, we need to take a hard look at what today’s conservatism stands for.

Conservatives can start by examining how Republicans working with Democrats have governed in several successful states, including Utah; free-market-based healthcare reform, tax reform that eliminated deductions and closed loopholes to bring down rates, and practical education reforms that spoke to 21st-century realities.

Instead of using immigration reform as a wedge issue, like many leaders in Washington, Utah passed legislation to help manage immigration based on our real economic needs. If conservatives come to the table with solutions that put our communities first, it will go a long way toward winning elections.

But it’s difficult to get people even to consider your reform ideas if they think, with good reason, you don’t like or respect them. Building a winning coalition to tackle the looming fiscal and trust deficits will be impossible if we continue to alienate broad segments of the population. We must be happy warriors who refuse to tolerate those who want Hispanic votes but not Hispanic neighbors. We should applaud states that lead on reforming drug policy. And, consistent with the Republican Party’s origins, we must demand equality under the law for all Americans.

While serving as governor of Utah, I pushed for civil unions and expanded reciprocal benefits for gay citizens. I did so not because of political pressure—indeed, at the time 70 percent of Utahns were opposed—but because as governor my role was to work for everybody, even those who didn’t have access to a powerful lobby. Civil unions, I believed, were a practical step that would bring all citizens more fully into the fabric of a state they already were—and always had been—a part of.

That was four years ago. Today we have an opportunity to do more: conservatives should start to lead again and push their states to join the nine others that allow all their citizens to marry. I’ve been married for 29 years. My marriage has been the greatest joy of my life. There is nothing conservative about denying other Americans the ability to forge that same relationship with the person they love.

All Americans should be treated equally by the law, whether they marry in a church, another religious institution, or a town hall. This does not mean that any religious group would be forced by the state to recognize relationships that run counter to their conscience. Civil equality is compatible with, and indeed promotes, freedom of conscience.

Marriage is not an issue that people rationalize through the abstract lens of the law; rather it is something understood emotionally through one’s own experience with family, neighbors, and friends. The party of Lincoln should stand with our best tradition of equality and support full civil marriage for all Americans.


This is both the right thing to do and will better allow us to confront the real choice our country is facing: a choice between the Founders’ vision of a limited government that empowers free markets, with a level playing field giving opportunity to all, and a world of crony capitalism and rent-seeking by the most powerful economic interests.

Adam Smith was not only an architect of the modern world of extraordinary economic opportunity, he was a moralist whose first book was The Theory of Moral Sentiments [1]. The foundation of his thought was his insight that free markets and open commerce strengthened our moral fiber by reinforcing the community of shared and reciprocal economic interests. Government, he thought, had to be limited lest it be captured and corrupted by special business interests who wanted protection from competition and the reciprocal requirements of community.

We are at a crossroads. I believe the American people will vote for free markets under equal rules of the game—because there is no opportunity or job growth any other way. But the American people will not hear us out if we stand against their friends, family, and individual liberty.

Jon Huntsman is a former governor of Utah and was a Huntsman Corporation executive and U.S. ambassador to China and Singapore.

308 Comments (Open | Close)

308 Comments To "Marriage Equality Is a Conservative Cause"

#1 Comment By Homer On December 31, 2013 @ 6:33 pm

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that the Republican Party can do to stop same sex marriage from becoming legal throughout the United States. The legal arguments promoted are childish. The vast majority of young people approve of it. In the states where it is legal, nothing has happened to upset straight marriages. And just think of how many people are turning away from the Republican Party because the hate espoused by its mouthpieces is impossible to reconcile with the actions of their family members, friends, and co-workers.

But go ahead, Republicans, keep it up. As a gay man I encourage you to keep pouring your money and time into this ridiculous effort to supervise the lives of gay people. Every dollar you spend doing so is one less dollar you can spend doing other mischief.

#2 Comment By Equality4All On December 31, 2013 @ 11:57 pm

Dear Lane Merrill,

Happy new year. Best wishes to your family in 2014.

Here’s the thing. You represent in your comments everything that is wrong with the Republican party. I’m not going to get into your ill-conceived thought about immigration. I will delve into marriage equality though, since that is the subject of this article.

Arguments against marriage equality are predominantly based on religious views. Given that our Constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion also protects those seeking freedom from religion, Bible, Torah or Koran-based arguments against marriage equality have no validity in this discussion. People of faith can and should exercise their Constitutional right to follow chosen religious doctrine, but cannot seek to impose that doctrine on others through rule of law.

This is how we protect religious freedom for everyone.

#3 Comment By Edric The Wild On January 1, 2014 @ 2:56 pm

Couldn’t disagree more. I’m all for equality among equal choices – and all for discrimination among unequal choices. This is an unequal choice – for secular not religious reasons.

We as a people have to start having children again – and we have no time to waste. We must show unequal favoritism to heterosexual marriage and to having children.

#4 Comment By Jordan M On January 13, 2014 @ 11:57 am

Why did Huntsman not make it further in the primaries? Why were Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum the front runners? Huntsman seems like the most level headed candidate, along with Ron Paul. The [2]

#5 Comment By EliteCommInc On January 15, 2014 @ 10:06 am

I don’t care much about their peculiar idea of equality as to marriage —

I do have issues about whether such marriages qualify for tax exemptions – since such unions contribute nothing to the greater community.

#6 Comment By Tom Hamilton On April 30, 2014 @ 10:45 am

I agree. Huntsman is so damned impressive across the board. I think he needs to run again, he’s got the fuel that will eventually catch fire—–at least that’s my bet.

#7 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 28, 2015 @ 5:52 pm

“I agree. Huntsman is so damned impressive across the board. I think he needs to run again, he’s got the fuel that will eventually catch fire—–at least that’s my bet.”

laughing. Given his apparent understanding of social construction based on something as simple and plane as biology, community fruition, community establishment and maintaining of the same.

It’s hard to imagine any conservative who’s shrift reasoning being anything more than a social theorist musing about existential meaning of being human.

#8 Comment By Minecraft On September 19, 2016 @ 1:58 pm

Not if I agree with this, but it could lead to think, because it can be something nice