After I came out and started to meet other out gay people, I found that I had to be careful with my conversations around them. Coming out of one closet had, in a sense, forced me into another political one; I couldn’t speak freely on political topics around them. For many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, conservatives are mythical creatures like Sasquatch – they’ve heard and read about them, but no one’s actually met one. Certainly none of their friends are conservatives.
I attended cocktail parties, hosted by gay organizations, where Stephen Harper was an object of ridicule, and the Conservative Party was the punchline to derisive jokes. Everyone in the room assumed that they were surrounded by fellow travelers and thus found no need to be circumspect in their conversations. After all, gays are politically homogeneous, right? Everyone was assumed to be an NDP supporter, or at the very least, a Liberal. If many of these people had known that I was a member of the CPC they would have reacted like I had body odour.
So, how does one respond to the question, “How can you be gay and a conservative?” I’ll admit that the Conservative Party of Canada has not always been a perfect fit for me, but when I honestly examine the spectrum of political issues that face Canadians, my personal beliefs line up with the CPC more often than not.
There are two main reasons why I support conservative political parties: individual rights and foreign policy. I identify myself politically not as a “capital-C Conservative” but as a libertarian. In a nutshell, my beliefs are socially liberal and fiscally conservative. For me, the framework through which I see politics is always the relationship between the individual and the state. I want the state to interfere with my life as little as is necessary and to leave it up to me, as an individual, how to live my life and spend my own money. There is a strong and historic strain of libertarianism in the conservative movement in Canada, and that is why I support the CPC.
In particular, the libertarian tradition in conservatism resonates with me strongly as a gay man. Libertarians believe in individual freedom and limited government. They see the individual as the basic unit of society, and believe that individuals should be free to make choices and should take personal responsibility for their actions. They reject the use of the coercive power of the state to make these choices for them. Individuals have a right, as John Locke wrote, to life, liberty and property, and libertarians believe that the state’s role is to provide conditions where individuals are free to enjoy these rights. In the economic sphere, they believe that a free-market economy is the system best suited for individuals to interact with each other.
As author David Boaz wrote, “libertarianism proposes a society of liberty under law, in which individuals are free to pursue their own lives so long as they respect the equal rights of others. The rule of law means that individuals are governed by generally applicable and spontaneously developed legal rules, not by arbitrary commands; and that those rules should protect the freedom of individuals to pursue happiness in their own ways, not aim at any particular result or outcome.” All of these values have a strong appeal to homosexuals, who for centuries have been victimized by state-sponsored discrimination and attempts to suppress their rights.
The CPC is admittedly far from being a libertarian party. But, when one examines the political options in Canada, the Conservatives at least try to limit the intrusion of the state into the lives of its citizens. The first instinct of a Conservative is to let individuals keep their money and make their own decisions. The first instinct of a Liberal or NDPer is to redistribute the income of its citizens and to regulate and monitor their decisions, to “erect a multitude of new offices, and [send] hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance”, as it says in the American Declaration of Independence.
Admittedly, the Conservative Party of Canada is not a perfect fit for the gay libertarian. In particular, the CPC’s social conservative wing has a history of antipathy to gay marriage, a particularly offensive intrusion into the personal lives of gay people. The CPC and its predecessor, the Canadian Alliance, repeatedly voted to affirm the traditional definition of marriage. However, in 2006, one year after gay marriage became legal in Canada, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government honoured a campaign promise and introduced a motion in the House of Commons to re-open the debate on gay marriage. The motion was defeated by a significant majority which included many Conservative MPs. Prime Minister Harper said, after the vote, “I don’t see reopening this question in the future.” In two subsequent elections, the issue of gay marriage has been absent from the CPC platform. That’s good enough for me.
The second pillar of my support for the CPC is that of foreign policy. LGBT people in Canada are fortunate that they are largely free of the daily persecution that exists in other countries. Homosexuality is illegal in seventy-five countries, in five of which it is punishable by death. In four countries, including Russia, it is illegal to publicly support gay rights. LGBT people are routinely tortured and killed in places like Iran, and in ISIS-controlled Iraq and Syria, gay men are thrown from the roofs of tall buildings, and videos of their deaths are uploaded to YouTube.
LGBT Canadians, who live in a liberal western democracy that guarantees them rights that homosexuals in other countries can only dream of (including the right to marry), have a duty to support change in places like Iran, Russia and Syria. That means that, at the very least, we should support a foreign policy that holds these countries accountable for their appalling human rights records and demand from our own government a foreign development agenda that encourages the spread of liberal democracy, civil rights and the rule of law. We should also hold governments and international organizations like the UN to account for failures to protect these victims.
So, which Canadian federal party is actually trying to do this? Here’s a hint: it’s not the NDP, whose policy is to never get involved in foreign disputes and to subordinate our foreign policy to the corrupt and incompetent UN. It’s not the Liberal Party, whose response to the appalling tragedy in Syria is to pull out our military and to send them warm winter parkas instead, and whose policy of exercising our “soft power” as “honest brokers” between moral equals has been a resounding and unequivocal failure. Yes, folks – it’s the redneck homophobes of the Conservative Party of Canada.
To those who express surprise that LGBT people can support the Conservative Party of Canada, I have this to say: which party’s Foreign Minister urged the Council on Foreign Relations to “stand up to the violent mobs that seek to criminalize homosexuality”, urged African and Caribbean nations of the Commonwealth to repeal their draconian anti-gay laws, and spoke out against the Russian law criminalizing the “support of homosexuality”? Whose Immigration Minister fast-tracked the immigration of 100 gay Iranians, possibly saving them from execution? Which party’s leader publicly chastised the President of Uganda for toughening the already brutal laws criminalizing homosexuality in his country? Once again, it’s the bible-thumping homophobes of the CPC.
I am a Conservative because I believe in individual rights, personal responsibility, and a government with limited power over my personal life and property. I believe in a free-market economy that allows entrepreneurs to thrive. I believe in a robust foreign policy that rejects moral equivalency and takes a firm stand on matters of democracy, civil rights, security, and the rule of law. I am also gay. These things are not mutually exclusive.
By Eric Lorenzen