Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Conservative Argues for Marriage Equality

Theodore Olson made the case for Bush in Bush v. Gore and served as Solicitor General for the George W. Bush administration. So you would think that he would be a strong advocate for keeping marriage defined as that being between one man and one woman.

You would be wrong.

“For conservatives who don’t like what I’m doing, it’s, ‘If he just had someone in his family we’d forgive him,’ ” Mr. Olson said. “For liberals it’s such a freakish thing that it’s, ‘He must have someone in his family, otherwise a conservative couldn’t possibly have these views.’ It’s frustrating that people won’t take it on face value.”

While Mr. Olson came to the case by a serendipitous route that began late last year with Rob Reiner, a Hollywood director widely known for his Democratic activism, he said his support of same-sex marriage stemmed from longstanding personal and legal conviction. He sees nothing inconsistent with that stance and his devotion to conservative legal causes: The same antipathy toward government discrimination, he said, inspired him to take up another cause that many on the right applauded — a lengthy campaign to dismantle affirmative action programs.

A hearing in the marriage case, filed on behalf of two gay couples, is scheduled for Wednesday in federal court in San Francisco. Practicing his opening argument recently, Mr. Olson declared that California’s ban is “utterly without justification” and stigmatizes gay men and lesbians as “second-class and unworthy.”

“This case,” he said afterward, “could involve the rights and happiness and equal treatment of millions of people.”

Actually, the idea of marriage equality is right in line with the conservative ideas of limited government and the rights of the people to make their own decisions.

And I like the idea of someone standing up for happiness. You don’t often think of that aspect of life when you think about laws and the government — even though it’s mentioned in the Declaration of Independence — but when it comes down to it, keeping people happy is probably one of the basic goals and duties of a civil society. And given the tone of “discourse” in recent months, we could use a little happiness in our lives, especially some of the more obstreperous conservatives who, to quote Alice Roosevelt Longworth, all seem to have been weaned on a pickle.

(Previous posts on the case and the alliance between Mr. Olson and David Boies are here and here.)