Premature Talk of Surrender on Marriage


Some suggest that conservatives should or will surrender in the current contest over the meaning of marriage.  Such suggestions are premature, I argue in an article at Public Discourse.  I think that for both principled and pragmatic reasons we should not expect to see the conservative movement giving up on this issue any time soon.

Here’s one of the principled reasons:

More broadly, the intellectual identity of conservatism—if it is to have any substantive intellectual identity at all—is surely bound up with the need to preserve the essentials of our civilization as we have inherited them, and in particular to preserve them against the corrosive influence of dogmatically egalitarian ideology. The movement in favor of same-sex marriage, however, is clearly one manifestation of just such an ideology: it insists on a certain kind of equality, even at the cost of redefining an institution that has been central to human flourishing, the character of which very few people would have admitted to be problematic until just a few years ago.

Indeed, it is hard to see why such a spirit should stop at redefining marriage and still bow with reverence before other received ideas that also might offend against a doctrinaire equality—ideas such as private property, the obligation of contracts, or freedom of religion. And it is equally hard to see how a conservatism that chose to capitulate to the redefinition of marriage could find the intellectual resources or the courage to defend these other principles once they come under sustained egalitarian attack.

family at church

Here’s one of the pragmatic reasons:

The Republican Party cannot surrender the cause of marriage, however, without also in practice surrendering the cause of life. To borrow the language of Byron White’s dissent in the Roe companion case Doe v. Bolton, a decision announcing a constitutional “right” to same-sex marriage will be every bit as much an act of “raw judicial power” as was the Court’s conduct inRoe and Doe. A Republican Party that gives up the fight against judicial activism in order to make peace with same-sex marriage will also be surrendering the fight for a constitutional order more protective of the right to life. There is no way such surrender could be achieved without shearing away masses of morally conservative, pro-life Republican voters.

And conversely, any Republican president who makes and keeps a pledge to nominate constitutionalist (and, implicitly, anti-Roe) justices, will inevitably be hacking away at the foundations of both the right to same-sex marriage and the right to abortion. As a practical matter, it is impossible to imagine a constitutionalist jurist who is willing to revisit and overturn Roe—a forty-one-year-old ruling that was approved by a seven-person majority—yet who will treat as untouchable a ruling in favor of a right to same-sex marriage—which will be brand-new, based on a novel theory of the Fourteenth Amendment, and will have passed by a five to four vote.

You can read the whole thing here.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Carson Holloway is a political scientist and the author of The Way of Life: John Paul II and the Challenge of Liberal Modernity (Baylor University Press), The Right Darwin? Evolution, Religion, and the Future of Democracy (Spence Publishing), and All Shook Up: Music, Passion and Politics (Spence Publishing), and the editor of a collection of essays entitled Magnanimity and Statesmanship (Lexington Books). His articles have appeared in the Review of Politics, Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, Perspectives on Political Science, and First Things. He is a regular contributor to the online journal The Public Discourse. Holloway was a 2005-06 William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Northern Illinois University in 1998.

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