Despite my opposition to his presidential candidacy in 2008, I’ve always liked Rudy Giuliani. Most of that stems from having grown up in New York and seeing the city’s renaissance under Mayor Rudy. Also, despite his socially liberal views, Rudy generally refrained from head-on confrontations with social conservatives. He always struck me as the type of guy who understood that his positions were in the minority within the party and so, unlike other social liberals, Rudy focused his fire on the left and largely kept mum on social issues.
He may not agree with the vote in New York to legalize gay marriage, but former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said the Republican Party should butt out of the bedroom and stick to fiscal policy.
“I think the Republican Party would be well advised to get the heck out of people’s bedrooms and let these things get decided by states,” Giuliani said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We’d be a much more successful political party if we stuck to our economic, conservative roots.”
There are so many problems with this statement that I almost don’t know where to begin. First of all, we need to retire the “stay out of people’s bedroom” meme. It’s a silly cliche and it is used to shut down debate. As is the case with abortion, I don’t think too many marriages take place in the bedroom. The implication is that this is ultimately an issue that revolves around sexual morality, but that misses the point. Nobody is urging that gays be prohibited from doing what they want behind closed doors. Gay marriage opponents simply do not want the definition of marriage to be changed. In point of fact, the libertarian position on this issue would not necessarily be for marriage to be opened to gays, but rather for the state to get out of the marriage business altogether.* The people advocating government involvement in this area are gay marriage advocates, not opponents.
*The merits of this particular argument have been debated here and elsewhere, and I’m not particularly concerned with continuing that discussion here. I just bring it up as an example of what the libertarian position is, not what it ought to be.
Giuliani also seems confused as to which side is making all the noise. Conservatives aren’t the ones who started this debate by advocating for a change. We’ve been the ones fighting a rearguard action to fend off those who would fundamentally alter the definition of marriage. Saying that we’re the ones who need to be quiet about the issue is completely hypocritical.
Rudy then tries to have it both ways, later saying that he’s personally opposed to gay marriage but that he supports the democratic process in New York. Well which is it, Rudy? If you think that it’s a bad idea, why are you telling others who share your view to shut up about it? Do you think that you can play both sides by feigning opposition while ultimately taking the side of gay marriage advocates? More importantly, Giuliani reverts to another tired meme that is constantly trotted out during this debate. Just because one believes in the principle of federalism it does not mean that one should not inveigh against states making bad decisions. Curiously the same people now talking about the glories of federalism didn’t seem to have the same opinion about remaining silent on state laws when it came to the Arizona immigration debate. Just because a state has the right to do such and such doesn’t mean that you can’t lobby the people and legislators of said state to reach a different conclusion. This is akin to the first amendment argument wherein people use the freedom of speech as a crutch when criticized for saying something stupid. Freedom is a two-way street, and we are allowed to criticize bad ideas and work for change within the states.
Finally, the political calculation is just off. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that the man who waged one of the worst presidential campaigns in history is offering bad political advice, but time and again polls show that it’s on social, not economic issues that conservatives are more in line with majority opinion. It’s one of the great fallacies of our era that conservatives should concentrate on economic issues in the interests of electoral gain. There’s a reason New York is the first state to enact gay marriage through the legislature. If being pro-gay marriage were a winning issue, then more states would have permitted it through the democratic process by now. And of course this ignores the more important issue about abandoning principles in the interests of political expediency.
Update: Semi-related, here is a story linked at Creative Minority Report about Vermont Inn Keepers being sued for refusing to host a gay marriage reception.
What now Rudy? Should gay marriage advocates stay out of Catholic innkeeper’s bedrooms?