Toward A New Gay-Inclusive American Conservatism

Barbara Gittings, an early hero of the LGBT civil rights movement, pickets outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia on July 4, 1964.

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The emotional and spiritual destruction that falls upon the shoulders of those of us who must bear the crushing tyranny of a minority’s religious beliefs would be unconscionable to the Founders, who well knew the destructiveness of religion to decent society.

American Conservatism Must Embrace LGBT Citizens Or Die

I hold this truth to be self-evident: that America desperately needs a new conservative movement. The American Conservative Movement will not thrive until it embraces unqualified civil rights for LGBT citizens.

Any semblance of American conservatism that existed since the founding of this nation has been co-opted by Christian nationalists who want nothing more than to establish a theocracy. One of the biggest, although not the only, reasons I see for this emergency is the failure of true conservatives to embrace the LGBT civil rights movement. It’s long past time that we see sexual minorities as deserving of the same unalienable rights as all other citizens. So-called “democratic socialists” (aka, liberals) have gained the upper hand because they freely define “conservatism” with fascism and Dominionism, and no true conservatives seem to be neither able nor willing to surmount that lie.

An example: I was recently on a gay dating app where I met an interesting man who seemed to take an interest in me. We sent a few messages back and forth, we shared a few interests together, and his profile indicated that he is active in some community organizations. I somewhat jokingly warned him that I am a conservative, and was shocked by his angry response: He told me that I am “what is wrong with the world,” and he immediately stopped communicating. He wasn’t interested to know what I meant by “conservative,” being perfectly content, apparently, with his prejudiced, preconceived notions.

I’ve had similar interactions with supposed conservatives when they find out that I am gay.

We need to remedy this dire situation because the Conservative Movement in America has been hijacked by Christian nationalists whose only allegiance appears to be the establishment of a Christian theocracy in America rivaling any ugly extremism seen in the Muslim world.

The takeover of the conservative movement in America by Christian nationalists offers an opportunity to re-create true conservatism for a modern age by those willing to see past old, unworkable, non-fact-based paradigms. The relationship that American conservatism has had with sexual minorities has not been based upon scientific fact about human sexuality, but upon religious extremism that is anything but conservative–or humane.

Typical display by anti-gay Christians, who show up at virtually every community event to express their virulent brand of hate, even drowning out music and speeches by blaring their hate through megaphones.

We should begin by defining American conservatism itself. Conservatism is unique to the founding principles of this grand American experiment for producing and maintaining a modern democratic republic. Those who do not share this broad set of values, and who insist upon a narrow, ecumenical brand that mimics the fascism that destroyed the conservative movement in America over the past four decades, by definition exclude themselves from this fellowship.

American conservatism is born of the beginning paragraph of the Declaration of Independence and, specifically, that sentence that makes the daring claim that human beings “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.*” The Constitution of the United States of America protects these unalienable rights.**

Period.

Our founding documents make no mention of Christianity, nor of any religious notion. The only reference to a deity are the words “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” which appear in the first paragraph. We find no mention of the god of the Hebrew Bible, nor any other known so-called “sacred literature.” Many of the most influential among the Founders were, in fact, Deists, which was as close as they dared come to being atheists as was possible for men of their stature at that time. So much for the claims by Christian nationalists that the Founders were Christian extremists like themselves.

“Nature, and nature’s God” is left undefined and vague…purposely, I believe, by a man who knew that those who first arrived on the shores of North America seeking religious freedom quickly denied that same freedom to anyone whose conscience led them in a different direction, as evidenced by the need of Roger Williams to leave the Massachusetts colony to found his own community in Rhode Island.

If someone does not believe this, and wants to insist that the USA was founded as a Christian nation, then they do not belong in this new American Conservative Movement. Those Christian extremists who hijacked the Republican Party, formerly the bastion of conservatism in America, for themselves are well on their way to implementing a fascist state, based upon a Christian theocracy that would deny basic rights to gays, women, those of other religions, or anyone who does not embrace their niggardly concept of their god.  

We must wrest control back from these authoritarians and, as George Will states in his book, “create a blueprint for finding our way out of the morass” that the fascists have created for us.

What will that blueprint look like?  

The current situation of Christian nationalists hijacking the conservative movement in America supplies us with the standing we need to justify the first major principle of the First Amendment to the Constitution: Separation of church and state. The Founders believed this to be important because they knew that the soils of Europe had been soaked with human blood from centuries of religious disputes between various sects of Christians over such “earth-shattering” arguments as to whether the elements of the Eucharist were representations of the blood and body of their messiah, or the actual blood and body as transformed through ritual. Religious wars were not mere history–they were being fought even as the Founding Fathers met to hammer out the Constitution.

With Christian nationalists calling for the death penalty for homosexuality, it would seem that their taste for blood has not been satisfied.

Make no mistake: The Founders wisely wanted to keep religion from influence over civic matters. But religion is not needed to have a civil society.  I propose that the guiding principle of the new American Conservative Movement be, simply, what is known as “The Golden Rule.” The mythical Jesus of Nazareth, who did have some valuable teachings, sins of his later followers aside, put it this way: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Put another way, first, by the great Jewish sage, Hillel, who operated a school around the time when Jesus was purported to have existed: Do not do unto others as you would have them not do unto you. Take your pick. Either would serve us well.

American Conservatism
Another biblical concept seemingly forgotten by rabid Christians.

I don’t know of any situation where the Golden Rule would not suffice to prevent behavior that would impinge upon the rights of anybody.

Next come the basic founding principles that guide our interpretation of what should be our constitutional rights. In writing the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson kept to a minimal portrayal of what those are, sticking to John Locke’s definition of “unalienable rights,” those rights that accrue simply to the fact of the existence of a human being. In the Declaration, Jefferson states that governments are instituted to guarantee these unalienable rights and, that among them–meaning that these are not the only ones, but he lists what we might assume are the most important among them–are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as we stated above.

Let’s assume for now that Life and Liberty are self-explanatory. Once born, no other human being has the right to take our life from us unless our existence threatens the life of someone else. This is why, when one human being murders another, we wish to prevent them from murdering anyone else and, even then, we hesitate to murder them to keep them from doing so.

Liberty should also, at this point in history, not require anything more than a rudimentary explanation. No human being, or collection of human beings, has the right to impinge upon the liberty of anyone else. That means, in modern context, that one human being cannot own another human being, and nobody can infringe upon the free movement of anyone else.

That brings us to the pursuit of happiness. Here some folks are prone to get hung up, especially those who wish to impinge upon the pursuit of happiness of those who disagree with their religious principles. Some of the greatest dissonance in the public arena comes when one person’s pursuit of happiness might be another person’s “sinfulness,” which they would like to prohibit through legal sanctions. Throughout history, this has been an area of great contention. The Puritans under Oliver Cromwell, for example, prohibited the celebration of Christmas, because their peculiar interpretation of Christianity regarded Christmas as pagan.

Cromwell didn’t last too long.

No single issue illustrates the stranglehold of present-day Christian nationalists in betrayal of conservative principles better than that of homosexuality. Any objection to homosexuality itself is rooted in interpretations of the Bible that are not shared by all parties who believe in that Bible. Yet Christian nationalists insist that their interpretation should be the only one, and that their deadly interpretation–they require the death penalty for homosexuality–should dictate civil law under the Constitution of the United States of America.

Christian estremists murdered women accused of being witches based upon their own narrow interpretation of their Bible.

Christian nationalists would have us believe that the god of their Bible destroys any society that tolerates homosexuals. Yet there are other Christians who, reading that same Bible, not only tolerate homosexuals, but embrace homosexual love and marriage. At the heart of it, this religious argument is no different from any other religious strife over which countless lives were lost in wars that the Founders hoped to avoid by excluding such religious conflicts from the civic square.

So it would seem that we have an argument over belief akin to the one over the meaning of the Eucharist–one that has no place being fought in the civic square, nor being decided by civil government.

At the heart of it, homosexual love is one aspect of the pursuit of happiness–nothing more, nothing less. While at one time, homosexuality was seen as equal to criminality, we know today, through both experience and scientific study, that homosexuality is as benign as heterosexuality: nothing other than sexual attraction can be extrapolated from either orientation. At one time, homosexuality was equated with all kinds of criminality, including rape and child molestation, not based on any empirical data, but to satisfy the need of religious extremists’ to demonize. 

Lynchings of African Americans were celebrated rather than condemned by many Christians, justified, again, by their own interpretation of their Bible.

One of the earliest scientific studies of homosexuality was published by Dr. Evelyn Hooker at UCLA, in 1957. The purpose of the study was to find out whether homosexuals were any more criminally inclined than their heterosexual counterparts. Hooker’s scientific study found that there was no correlation whatsoever between homosexuality and criminality. Many scientific, duplicatable, peer-reviewed studies have been done in the decades since that original study to prove that homosexuality is a benign characteristic of human beings.

This should lead us to the conclusion that homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is a benign, a priori characteristic of being human, and not a predictor of the moral and ethical behavior of the individual person. As the mythical Jesus says, judge the person by the fruit he produces.

It’s simply about mutual, consensual love between human beings. Love. Period.

On the other hand, Christian nationalists, as well as others insisting upon a biblical or even emotional rather than scientifically sound approach to human sexuality, would like us to believe that homosexuals in general are a monolithic group of hedonists and sexual perverts. They point to a subset of homosexuals, people who flout extraordinary sexual behavior–kind of like surveying heterosexual kids at Spring Break and extrapolating from their behaviors that they represent all of heterosexuality. True Conservatives will understand why this view cannot be held with any kind of seriousness.

Now let’s look at the other side of this coin, at what happens when people who happen to be homosexual suffer the degradations and humiliations of laws passed by those who wish to force their religious beliefs on all of us, in violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution, which impinge upon the unalienable right of homosexuals to pursue happiness.

Under our constitutional government, with a First Amendment prohibiting the establishment of an official religion, the purpose of which is to guarantee that any and all belief systems would have freedom to exist, a biblical view of homosexuality cannot be established as the official one. In fact, not all people who follow that Bible believe the same way about homosexuality, as stated above, and some Christians and Jews performed marriage ceremonies–unsanctioned by the state, of course–between same-sex couples prior to the Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage between people of the same gender. Sadly, the government established marriage laws based upon religious prejudices for many years, in clear violation of the First Amendment’s anti-establishment clause. Happily, that has been remedied.

What I find curious is that I haven’t seen anyone argue the fact that denying homosexuals their unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness clearly violates the fundamental principle under which the USA was established. Let’s look at the consequences of this violation of principle.

At the time of the so-called “Stonewall Rebellion,” when a group of drag queens ignited the gay civil rights movement when they rebelled against the cops who had come to shake them down and shame the patrons of what was a known gay bar in New York City, it was actually illegal to serve alcohol to homosexuals in New York State (such laws were common in other jurisdictions as well). Homosexuals couldn’t hold professional licenses–that’s why so many who fit stereotypes of effeminacy held jobs as waiters and other stereotypical livelihoods.

These laws barring homosexuals from their pursuit of happiness were based upon a biblical prohibition–period–and, therefore, unconstitutional.

Let’s take a look at some of the effects upon the personalities and quality of life that such societal and economic prohibitions would have upon a human being–any human being, not just a homosexual human being.

Chronic, acute depression would certainly be among the worst factors faced by a person suffering from such treatment. Imagine a child, growing into puberty, discovering that he is what his church, his family, everyone who is important to him, calls an “abomination to god,” that the god of his childhood hates him and wants him dead. I can remember seeing many instances where the word “homosexual” was grouped with “murders, child molesters, and rapists.” Not exactly fertile ground for building healthy self-esteem.

Chronic depression is rampant among LGBT people, because of the widespread messages of hate from religious leaders and the politicians who suck up to them. The suicide rate is also much higher than among heterosexuals.

And what kind of coping skills grow out of such a self-image? I think we can expect a high rate of alcoholism and drug addiction, which are true of the LGBT community, which is statistically five times more likely to suffer from those afflictions. LGBT people also suffer a much higher rate of suicide than the general population. 

When a human being is psychologically brutalized in this way from sexual self-discovery onward, what else would we expect? And since this horrific treatment arises purely out of an established religious context, why is it happening in a society where the pursuit of happiness, without the prejudice of an established religion, is supposed to be the fundamental principle?

Many lives have been destroyed by the “sincerely held religious beliefs” of others.  How does a “conservative” interested in defending and preserving the unalienable right to pursuit of happiness jibe that outcome with something so constitutionally indefensible?

Just how does anyone, particularly someone who identifies as a Conservative, justify such torment of another human being simply because of whom they love? How does a supposed Conservative justify denying that loving citizen the right to pursue happiness?

How, for example, does someone dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal in the eyes of the law look at someone like former Democratic Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, a decent, law-abiding citizen who risked his life for his country in honorable military service, who now lives in a loving relationship with his lawfully-wedded husband, in dedicated service to his community–as misguided as he might be about the role of government–and reasonably think that all of those fine qualities and contributions are canceled out by the mere fact of his homosexuality?

Science and experience tell us that this faulty belief causes immense harm to the pursuit of happiness of homosexual citizens. The belief is based upon religious writings from thousands of years ago, long before the science of human sexuality proved that sexuality is not binary, and one flavor need not be forced on every single one of us.

The emotional and spiritual destruction that falls upon the shoulders of those of us who must bear the crushing tyranny of a minority’s religious beliefs would be unconscionable to the Founders, who well knew the destructiveness of religion to decent society.

Such unAmerican injustice is both poisonous and counter-productive to the free society envisioned by the Declaration of Independence itself, which singled out protection of the pursuit of happiness as being one of the primary purposes of government. And nothing creates an impetus to seek justice so powerful, for me as an individual, as coming to adulthood and realizing how damaging to my own pursuit of happiness were the lies I was told about who I am and how I love, and the wholly unnecessary damage to my heart and psyche caused by those lies. Lies all based upon religious nonsense. 

Gay American Conservatism
The Puritans forbade the celebration of Christmas. What other “laws” will religious extremists dictate?

As American Conservatives, we must realize that religious fundamentalists have destroyed the movement and taken over the machinery of the political party that once championed conservative principles, so that they can advance a program of religious fanaticism and fascism. They cannot be permitted to define “conservatism” in America. Their agenda not only undermines the fundamental principles by which our democratic republic was established, but many of them shamelessly announce their intention to replace the Constitution of the United States with a biblical theocracy.

Allowing them to take the reins of power by giving in to their flouting of the First Amendment anti-establishment clause has enabled them to hijack the conservative movement, and made them the poster children of the dark, evil image that other Americans see the word “conservative” to mean.

 We must take back the American Conservative Movement, and re-establish it as the defender of the founding principles. That means taking a good, hard look at what those principles mean, and rescuing the movement from the religious fanatics who regard the Constitution not as the protector of the unalienable rights of all citizens, but as an inconvenience that will soon be out of their way.

To this end I pledge my life, my fortune, and my sacred honor. I hope that other true American conservatives will join me.

*John Locke wrote “pursuit of property”--Thomas Jefferson broadened the concept to “pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence.

**For further discussion of this concept, see George Will’s excellent book, The Conservative Sensibility.

©2020 Bert Wylen

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