Gay marriage, for instance, is one issue on which Paul would like to shake up the Republican position. “I’m an old-fashioned traditionalist. I believe in the historic and religious definition of marriage,” he says. “That being said, I’m not for eliminating contracts between adults. I think there are ways to make the tax code more neutral, so it doesn’t mention marriage. Then we don’t have to redefine what marriage is; we just don’t have marriage in the tax code.”
In other words, let’s get the government out of the marriage business, he says. If we were starting a system from scratch, I suspect that would be an easier sell. But getting the federal government out of the marriage business, deferring to the states and allowing individuals to, as he says, enter into contracts with one another, can be the way out of the gay marriage thicket for the GOP, I would argue.
The Supreme Court, depending on its ruling in the same-sex marriage cases, may assist this process by striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, the biggest aggrandizement of federal power on marriage in my lifetime (maybe ever).
Conservatives understand that there is a realm of conduct left to churches, synagogues, families, localities and individuals. The essence of Burkean conservatism is a healthy regard for and respect for those realms and for the customs, habits and beliefs that flow from those free associations. Whatever the methodology, conservatives at the national level need to extract themselves from a losing battle that should not be within the purview of the federal government.
As much as I disagree with Rand Paul on his larger vision on foreign policy, he is worth heeding on marriage. Americans have not bought into the “traditional marriage” advocates (presumably high divorce rates in heterosexual marriages are none of their business?), most especially the claim that same-sex marriage “harms” other “traditional” marriages. (I confess to never having understood that argument.) Paul is dead right: It is time for conservatives to move on and start focusing on issues that are properly the concern of elected leaders and on which the public actually wants government to act.