With a controversial ballot question looming, some on the right have raised the plaintive cry that conservatives should shun “social issues.” But those issues aren’t distractions; they are instead an integral part of the bedrock on which the whole conservative movement rests.
The social-issue debate within the North Carolina conservative movement and the Republican Party has been heated up by an amendment to the state constitution that would add the following language:
Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This Section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.
What has happened during the campaign leading up to the May 8 election is a number of self-avowed conservatives have come out against the Marriage Amendment. They have done so for various reasons but they have allowed the opposition to say that even “conservatives” are against the amendment.
If we take a step back and look at what conservatives seek to protect in our society and conversely what those seeking to “fundamentally transform” our way of life attack, we narrow it down to three basic pillars: faith, family and free markets.
Protecting free markets finds virtual universal support from conservatives ranging from libertarians to hard-right conservatives, even when there may be disagreements over what constitutes “free markets.” But what a lot of libertarians and even “fiscal” conservatives miss is the importance of the other two pillars – faith and family – to the proper functioning of a free society.
Why a problem with protecting faith and family? There are a lot of people uncomfortable talking about these topics. Remember the old taboo that you don’t discuss sex, religion or politics in polite company. When you bring up social issues you are usually talking about all three!
But there is another type of conservative politician who doesn’t want to talk about them — the figure who really does not support the commonly held conservative position on these issues. To talk about them and possibly vote on them means that they have to go on record, and some politicos want to avoid that at all costs.
And this is where we find ourselves with the Marriage Amendment. A number of public figures are revealing their feelings on the Marriage Amendment — and possibly giving an indication of how they feel on other social issues. By doing so they show they are out of the mainstream of what not only the majority of their party supports, but also what a majority of the voting population supports.
Why should this be important to fiscal conservatives? Looking at polling data we see a majority of voters generally in support of conservative positions on the big social issues like abortion and gay marriage. If we look at where those same social conservatives stand on fiscal issues, they overwhelmingly fall on what would be considered the conservative side on values such as limited government, low taxes and less spending.
Looking at polling data and the minority that call themselves “liberal” on social issues, we find those voters are overwhelmingly liberal on economic issues, preferring higher taxes, more government and more regulation. While there are exceptions within both groups, the numbers make a good case for saying that most social conservatives are economic conservatives and most social liberals are economic liberals in the meaning of those words in today’s political debates.
By making cause with social liberals, economic conservatives are also weakening the case for social conservatives to partner with them on economic issues. It is not a one-way street.
It is also important in light of recent attacks on faith and family to ensure that those institutions are protected from attack by government. And attack from the government is what we are talking about with the Marriage Amendment. By putting this in the state constitution we are ensuring that no state judges will try to redefine marriage in North Carolina, just as they have in almost every other state where the issue first was brought up.
Looking at what has happened in other states where the constitutional protection does not exist is instructive. The government quickly goes from being neutral in the discussion to being an advocate for something that is hostile to most mainstream religions and most families. While faith and family may have teachings and opinions on these issues, it is hard for them to compete with state-mandated education in public schools when gay marriage or other divisive social issues are imposed on a state.
A final word for those who think by opposing the amendment they are helping to end this “divisive” social battle: Do not deceive yourself. If this amendment is defeated it is not the end, it will be merely the opening round in a much more divisive and bitter struggle that will envelop North Carolina.
Francis De Luca is president of the Civitas Institute