Gay marriage continues to be a hot topic, with the tide of public opinion and political persuasion seemingly turning more supportive. As some prominent Republicans push for the adoption same-sex unions, many wonder how President Ronald Reagan would have responded to the issue of gay rights. In a new op-ed for CNN, Grove City College professor and author Paul Kengor explores this issue in detail.
Kengor begins his piece by noting that Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, recently claimed that her father did not have any prejudices against gays and lesbians. Davis’ comments, which were captured in a Politico article and which quickly became fodder for same-sex marriage proponents, went on to note that Reagan likely wouldn’t have prevented gays from marrying.
“I don’t think he would stand in the way of it, at all,” said Davis, who was speaking on a television show about gay rights. “I don’t think he would stand in the way of two people wanting to make a commitment to one another.”
While Kengor notes that these words have been used by some to advance the notion that Reagan was a same-sex marriage advocate (or that he would be today), the professor goes on to explain that this may be an oversimplification. He writes:
Indeed, Reagan was tolerant — on religion, on race, on ethnic differences, on differences of opinion on many things, and also toward gays. As Davis notes, “He did not have prejudices against gay people.” Davis gives just a few of many examples.
But she then goes where I don’t think we should. […]
Davis then uses an argument that is libertarian (which Reagan was not), and which fails to understand the essence of conservatives’ objection to same-sex marriage: “I also think because he wanted government out of peoples’ lives, he would not understand the intrusion of government banning such a thing. This is not what he would have thought government should be doing.”
Of this latter comment, Kengor claims that conservatives reject the federal government’s attempt to re-craft and redefine marriage. This, too, in a sense constitutes government intrusion, as it involves transforming an institution, opening it to new meanings and paradigms that run counter to its historical context.
Kengor argues that conservatism is supposed “to preserve and conserve time-tested values that have endured for good reason and for the best of society and for order.” Considering that Reagan was a conservative and taking into account his penchant for keeping values in tact and rooting beliefs in biblical and natural law, Kengor argues that Reagan’s stance may not be as easy to determine as Davis would claim.
The professor, who has written a number of books on the former president, said that, while the left may not want to hear Bible-based arguments against same-sex marriage, faith-based narratives are essential to consider when discussing Reagan.
Kengor goes on to write that Reagan did not illustrate evidence of supporting gay marriage throughout his presidency and that his views, in actuality, were shaped around faith and religion. The professor also notes that these values and the importance of children being raised by a mother and father were illustrated by the late politician:
Reagan’s religious roots were deep, inculcated by his mother, an extremely devout, traditional Christian, and others who profoundly influenced him in Dixon, Illinois, in the 1920s. He said that “everything” he learned about the values that shaped his life and presidency he learned back in Dixon. It was his “inheritance,” one that never left him. Needless to say, Reagan did not learn to support same-sex marriage in Dixon.
Moreover, Reagan was unwavering in his conviction of the importance of a father and a mother raising children and the next generation of American citizens and understood marriage as a vital bond between a man and a woman.
To cite just one example from the final days of his presidency (January 12, 1989), Reagan insisted that “we must teach youngsters the beauty of the loving, lifelong relationship between husband and wife that is marriage.”
In the end, Kengor argues that toleration is not the same as endorsing something. While Reagan tolerated homosexuals, that does not mean, in the professor’s view, that he endorsed gay marriage. Furthermore, he wrote that it is intellectual laziness for the American left to assume that all those who oppose same-sex unions are bigots.
Rather than embracing this oversimplification, Kengor noted that there are very real and historical reasons why many continue to oppose gay marriage.
“Reagan was silent on same-sex marriage, as was everyone of his generation,” concluded Kengor. “He, like all liberals of his time, could not have conceived of same-sex marriage, and he, like the entirety of the Democratic Party just a decade or two ago, unwaveringly supported traditional marriage.”
Read the op-ed in its entirety here.
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