Tomorrow’s event at the Cato Institute seems like an intriguing cage-match between Andrew Sullivan, a sort-of-lapsed [small c]onservative and the Ultra-Right wing, virulently anti-gay Maggie Gallagher. The stated topic is whether there’s a place for gays in conservatism and the conservative movement. A more perspicacious question might convert the “and” to “or”: Is there a place for gays in conservatism OR the conservative movement? Because these two things are quite different. (I expect that Sullivan will pick up on this point immediately, as he’s written about how the “movement” has lost its way, and therefore him.)
I’m pretty far from conservative. But reading thoughtful conservatives is vital for anyone with aspirations to informed commentary and discussion. The conservative “movement,” though? Not so much: Tea Parties, torture defense, hypocritical and indefensible legislative obstructionism, and…Sarah Palin. It seems that Burkean-style conservatives have plenty to do in distinguishing themselves from those who have hijacked the word “conservative” and are trying to make off with it. There’s no room for gays — or anyone else whose concern for community, nation, and world isn’t purely cynical — in that “movement.” The gay question is to some extent a distraction from this broader tension, but the issue whether conservatism can find a place for gays is important as a marker for the movement’s continued intellectual legitimacy. Any “movement” that can find no place for a large and influential demographic group is engaging in the kind of denial — closeting, to use a pointed word in this context — that is destined to consign it to history’s periphery. We’re not going away, but they will unless they can find some way of accommodating us.
Expect the third participant, a UK Conservative party “shadow” secretary (Nick Herbert) to explain how that party has abandoned its attacks on the gay community in favor of the kind of robust, inclusive conservatism that Maggie Gallagher loves to hate.