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Real conservatives back gay marriage

Updated: June 5, 2013 6:11AM

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court hearings on two marriage cases last month, arguments about marriage for gay and lesbian couples are playing out across America. While we have two months to wait for the court’s decision on the two laws in question — the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 — the people of Illinois have an opportunity to act on marriage now.

The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, which has already passed the state Senate, would allow Illinois to finally treat same-sex couples equally when it comes to marriage. With the House poised to vote on it as early as next week amid building support, equality is well within reach.

On this issue, Illinois Republicans would do well to follow the lead of their counterparts in Rhode Island, where five GOP senators united behind the freedom to marry bill that passed the Senate there last week. Why? Because it makes conservative sense.

In fact, some of the strongest arguments for the freedom to marry come from the conservative playbook. Like the Founding Fathers, conservatives today understand one of the main virtues of a constitutional republic is that the law restrains government power and encourages personal freedom. But for the law to be just, it must regard every individual equally regardless of their political or financial power — and, in the case of marriage, no matter whom they love.

Contrary to the claims of some opponents, religious values don’t, in fact, conflict with the wholly American belief that the freedom to marry is a fundamental right. The bill before the Illinois Legislature explicitly forbids the government from forcing religious institutions to solemnize or host any marriages.

We conservatives also love a good economic argument, so we should appreciate how advancing the freedom to marry will cut the additional time and expense for businesses navigating the complicated territory of benefits and taxes for employees in same-sex relationships. Current law also makes it needlessly difficult for companies to attract productive talent. More than 60 American companies — Apple, Alcoa, Facebook, eBay, Intel and Morgan Stanley among them — filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in February arguing that laws restricting the freedom to marry “make it difficult to recruit, hire and retain some of the top employees who choose not to live in states where they are relegated to second-class-citizen status.”

Why not pass legislation that would make it more — not less — attractive for talent and businesses to be in Illinois? The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act would do just that.

There is also an extremely practical reason for Illinois Republicans to support the freedom to marry: political relevance. Illinois is in dire need of a credible opposition party, but Republican Party posturing on marriage reduces its appeal among voters. A national poll by ABC and the Washington Post last month found that 81 percent of people under 30 support the freedom to marry. Moreover, 52 percent of Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP under the age of 50 support the freedom to marry.

If the Illinois Republican Party wants to win elections, its leaders must support our rightful American freedoms — even for those they don’t personally agree with. That’s the way Illinois works, and that’s the way America works.

William F. Buckley, the father of modern conservatism, called the conservative movement the “politics of reality.” By acknowledging the fact that same-sex couples are already living together and raising families, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act is not only smart politics, but also a most conservative approach to governance.

Eric Kohn is CEO of Curious Task Strategies, a political strategy firm. Richard Lorenc is the Director of Programs & Alumni Relations at the Foundation for Economic Education.

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