Stanford’s campus isn’t just a center for political discussion and controversial, new ideologies; it is a microcosm of national politics, with a tilt to the left.
Though many issues come and go in political dialogue on campus, one issue will undoubtedly remain. As it pervades the campus dialogue, gay marriage—in the wake of the Proposition 8 trials—will likely factor heavily in the political climate of our school in the quarters to come. As the issue evolves on the legal stage, so too will social ideologies as they adapt to new laws and practices.
In this adaptation there have been and may even be a few more surprises.
On August 4th, Vaughn Walker, the U.S. Chief District Judge for Northern California, struck down Prop. 8, the voter referendum that banned same-sex marriage in California. Though Walker’s decision was a victory for Prop. 8 opponents (gay marriage supporters), same sex marriage is not yet legal in California.
Proposition 8’s supporters appealed their case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. From there, the issue may find its way to the Supreme Court. As the trials continue, Prop. 8 and the ban on same-sex marriage will remain in effect.
Over the last month, Walker has received a great deal of criticism for being a homosexual and for purportedly allowing his sexuality to influence his court decision. But many overlook that Walker is not only a conservative but also a Reagan court appointee.
In fact, the lead prosecutor against Prop. 8—the attorney fighting for gay marriage—is Ted Olson, the conservative that represented George W. Bush in Bush v. Gore, the Florida trial that determined the 2000 presidential election.
Vaughn Walker and Ted Olson: two conservatives in favor of gay marriage. Does such an unorthodox stance among conservatives dictate a shift in the mainstream?
According to Tommy Schultz ‘11, “conservative principles, from the libertarian to the socially conservative, align on both sides of the issue.” As the president of the Stanford Conservative Society, Schultz comments, “Though I have a strong stance on the issue, our organization has a diverse opinion on the matter, even within our own officer corps.”
Some conservatives, like Greg Hirshman ‘11, believe that conservative principles work primarily against same sex marriage. Hirshman, the editor-in-chief of the Cardinal Principle, supports the ban on gay marriage, because he believes, “it’s best for society.”
As the VP of the Stanford chapter of the Tea Party, Hirshman retains a secular perspective: “The traditional family is the building block of society. When that becomes eroded, society becomes eroded.”
Though his beliefs coincide with traditional conservative thought, Hirshman adds, “I don’t buy that homosexuality is an abomination by God.”
Professor Paul Robinson of the History Department, the author of Queer Wars: the New Gay Right and Its Critics, believes that homosexuality has become a less incendiary issue over time. He notes, “The last two decades have seen the drastic de-radicalization of gays as well as the rejection of homophobia by all people of all political persuasions.”
According to Professor Robinson, Judge Walker is not the first gay conservative to enter the political spotlight. In his book, he focuses on Andrew Sullivan, whom he regards as, “the first important conservative intellectual to call for gay marriage.”
But perhaps one of the most under-publicized calls for gay marriage came from Gerald Ford, the former Republican president best known for pardoning Richard Nixon. Still an avid conservative, Ford stated, “I think [same-sex couples] should be treated equally. Period.”
Even conservative personalities like Dick Cheney, Anne Coulter, and Elizabeth Hasselbeck have taken a stand for gay marriage. Following their example, a number of Stanford conservatives and libertarians have come out in support of same sex marriage.
A member of the Stanford Conservative Society, Jeremy Fine ’11, believes, “The possible overturning of California’s Proposition 8…is a step in the right direction.” Fine considers himself a thoughtful conservative with libertarian leanings in the social sense. “I believe in a hands-off policy when it comes to most social issues. There should be no government role in regulating marriage.”
Fine believes that the state should provide equal contractual unions to opposite and same sex couples, but that religions should be able to decide who they want to marry for themselves.
Conservatives like Jeremy Fine could represent a new realm of conservatism, one not entirely libertarian but with libertarian leanings on social issues like gay marriage. Professor Robinson notes, “I don’t see anything peculiar about Stanford: what has happened here is what has happened nationally…over the past two decades.”
With more and more conservatives like Ted Olson, Gerald Ford, and Anne Coulter coming out in support of gay marriage, it is possible to think that mainstream conservatives are adapting to the new, slightly more liberal, social climate of the 21st century.
More traditional conservatives like Schultz and Hirshman might disagree with the notion of a shifted mainstream, but they’d likely agree that there’s always room for new ideals as long as they stick to conservative principles.