Should social conservatives have backed civil unions (in order to save marriage?)

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Over at TAC, Jim Antle has a smart take on The Lessons of Social Conservative’s Setbacks. He makes several worthy points, but this one struck me as especially interesting:

Social conservatives avoided compromises, like decoupling some incidents of marriage from the institution itself and extending them to individuals regardless of relationship status. While this wouldn’t have satisfied those whose main goal was “marriage equality” in culture and law, it might have met the need for tangible benefits like hospital visitation without the “separate but equal” approach of civil unions or domestic partnerships—which social conservatives opposed in any event.

If you’re not familiar with the “confrontational politics” theory on compromise, it essentially argues that every compromise is an incremental step toward a loss. In other words, supporting civil unions would have been merely a short-term stepping stone toward same sex marriage (which is, itself, a stepping stone toward the next thing.) Liberals like confrontation, and agitators view skirmishes as necessary steps toward radically transforming our culture.

If you’ve ever wondered why conservatives on cable TV are so often forced to defend the indefensible, it’s because they generally adhere to this “slippery slope” theory of politics. They fear if they give an inch, liberals will take a foot. So they will, out of loyalty, defend B in order to preserve A — the thing they really care about. Unfortunately, B may be simply a firewall. This makes conservatives appear out of touch and obstinate.

But Antle seems to be arguing quite the opposite — that conservatives might have actually been better off had they proactively campaigned for some sort of reasonable accommodation. What if conservatives had proactively campaigned for gay Americans to be able to have equal protection under the law, while preserving the unique institution of traditional marriage?

A decade ago, this would have seemed like grasping defeat from the jaws of victory, but it would have also allowed social conservatives to seize some of the moral high ground. And it’s hard to imagine this strategy would have ended worse for social conservatives than what we have today.

This theory, of course, has consequences. For example, should conservatives now support common-sense background checks as a way to fend off more gun control?

Matt K. Lewis