Jon Huntsman: Second look at making gay marriage a conservative cause?

Huntsman endorsing gay marriage is like Karl Rove’s new group endorsing a candidate in a GOP primary. Given the suspicion and disdain with which most grassroots conservatives regard them, it’s practically an anti-endorsement. It’s like a neon sign flashing “HERE THERE BE RINOS.”

I do agree with him on the merits about legalizing SSM but I don’t see how you hold the conservative coalition, or what’s left of it, together if the GOP leadership (or what’s left of it) were suddenly to support this view.

[I]t’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…

[C]onservatives 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…

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…

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.

Two things here. One: You’ll note that the word “Constitution” is never mentioned. That’s wise. One of the surest ways to stoke populist rage at ruling-class imperiousness would be to summarily impose gay marriage on red states via judicial fiat. If you want to build grudging respect for the legitimacy of SSM among opponents, democracy and federalism are the way to go. I think that’s what Huntsman’s advocating here, which puts him squarely in line with Obama — but maybe only for another week.

Two: I’ve heard the argument a lot lately in the immigration context that GOP policies can’t and won’t get a fair hearing from an alienated demographic until they move towards the center on a key issue. We need a path to citizenship ASAP not because that’ll instantly win us 50 percent of the Latino vote but because it’ll thaw Republican relations with Latinos and leave them more apt to consider conservative ideas on things like spending. Here’s Huntsman making that argument not only on immigration but on gay marriage — and drug policy. In which case, a question: How much of the current Democratic social agenda should the GOP adopt in order to earn a fair hearing with otherwise reliably Democratic constituencies? Shouldn’t we think about moderating on abortion too to gain a “fair hearing” from younger single women? He’s basically nudging conservatives to go full libertarian in the interest of advancing their fiscal program, which would work great if not for the fact that there are lots and lots and lots and lots of conservatives who aren’t libertarian and will surely only stand for so much deviation from their social beliefs. There may be more room to maneuver here in a few years — polls show that young evangelicals are more open to gay marriage than their elders — but in the meantime, how do you get Republicans elected if social cons see the party drifting away?

Via Dave Weigel, here’s the man himself two years ago in presidential-candidate mode. Interesting how electoral realities weighed more heavily on him then than they do now that he’s Mr. No Labels.

Update: An interesting take from Rod Dreher (and one of his commenters) on why the generational divide on gay marriage is so pronounced. Quote: “You’re trying to conserve something that existed in your lifetime and has since been destroyed. For a young person, there’s nothing to conserve.”