What Social Conservatives Don’t Understand

Social conservatives have given Rick Santorum’s campaign a fighting chance. Not a chance to win the GOP nomination, mind you, but a fighting chance to make it to a few more states. Ultimately, I believe Santorum’s campaign will implode and he’ll fade away. If they guy lost as a sitting senator in his own district by 18% he’s got about as much chance of winning the GOP nomination as Bob Bennett, the former senator from Utah.

Social conservatives voted for Rick Santorum because he’s not Mitt Romney and he’s not Ron Paul. How is he different? He believes the government should mandate morality. No abortion, no gay marriage, no drugs, etc. under penalty of the law. Ron Paul believes that per the Constitution these matters should be left up to the states. Romney…well, that’s part of Romney’s strength, nobody is quite sure what he really believes so they can project whatever they want onto him. Hey, it worked for Obama so you can’t call it a bad strategy for getting elected to a first term, although it complicates things for the second.

I believe social conservatives would agree with me that the objective is to minimize negative behaviors, in cases like abortion and drug use, but that eliminating them is virtually impossible. Even if abortion were completely outlawed, like murder, people would still have a certain number of abortions, even as people still murder. Heroin is completely illegal everywhere in the country, but people still do it. So the question is not how do we get rid of negative behaviors, but rather how do we minimize them and minimize the damage they cause. I would argue that in every case, persuasion works better than coercion. But this is only part of the matter. What social conservatives are really missing is that they are working to create the system for their own destruction, or if not destruction, their own persecution or enslavement.

Take gay marriage, for example. Social conservatives want to outlaw gay marriage, and they generally want to do it at the federal level. The way they see it, there are two options with two sub-options each; 1) legal or illegal at the federal level, or 2) legal or illegal on a state by state level. What they don’t even consider is a third option–get government completely out of marriage. Why should social conservatives want to get government out of marriage? To prevent gay marriage from being forced upon them. The problem is that once you invite government to manage marriage, you’ve set up the system such that government can control marriage in a way you don’t like. When you say “Government can define what marriage is” then that works fine for social conservatives as long as Rick Santorum is President. But once Obama, or Biden, or Pelosi, or Barney Frank is President, they can use the same system that was set up by social conservatives to reverse government policy.

Imagine if gay marriage were not only legal and defended by the federal government, but the federal government took away the tax-exempt status of any church that didn’t offer the marriage ceremony to gay couples. Want to prevent this from happening? You can’t do it by saying “We’ll keep electing someone like Santorum” because you can’t guarantee that. You do this by saying “We’re going to stick to the Constitution and keep government out of marriage.” Yes, this means you don’t get to force your views on anyone else–you have to rely on your powers of persuasion–but it also means they can’t force their views on you.

Likewise, social liberals should be in favor of keeping government out of marriage for the same reason–whatever system involves government in marriage can be used against them. This is where social conservatives and social liberals can come together in unity, by jointly pushing government to keep its hands off marriage in order to protect the rights of both groups to manage marriage as they see fit. If the Mormons want to only allow heterosexual couples to be married in their religion, let them exercise that freedom. If another church wants to perform marriages for gay couples, let them exercise that freedom. As Thomas Jefferson said of a diversity of religions, “it neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket.” Allowing gay couples to marry doesn’t mean I am endorsing that lifestyle. I don’t have to personally recognize it as “marriage”. Neither does the government. The government’s regard towards all “marriages” of any sort would merely be to recognize a legal contract. What are the details of that contract? Whatever is written into the contract. Marriage would be a matter of churches, where it was for thousands of years until relatively recently. Everyone would be free to observe marriage as they please, and no one would be forced into observing marriage in a way they don’t agree with. The key is to look to the Constitution, and to tie the hands of government such that they don’t interfere. Don’t set up the system to allow you to force others to do what you want, or else you create the system that will be used to force you to do what others want. Make sure the system allows us all to be free to make our own way, as long as making our own way doesn’t involve picking pockets or breaking legs. Supporting a candidate like Santorum is a guaranteed path to more abortions and gay marriage being forced upon religions.