Saturday, May 18, 2013 | 2:02 a.m.
What do Vice President Dick Cheney, Gen. Colin Powell, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Clint Eastwood and more than 130 top officials from the Reagan and both Bush administrations have in common?
All are proud conservatives. Each spent much of their careers fighting on behalf of smaller government. And all support civil marriage for gay couples. Two weeks ago, their ranks increased to include state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, who took a principled stand in favor of repealing Nevada’s current constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and replacing it with protections that will provide all loving, committed couples in the state the freedom to marry while also protecting religious freedom for churches that feel differently on this issue.
Freedom of Americans across all races is why the Republican Party was founded. And our most important accomplishments, from the economic growth unleashed when we’ve lowered taxes and reduced regulation to the fall of the Berlin Wall, have resulted when we promoted freedom.
Our concept of freedom is based in the Declaration of Independence, where every American was provided by their creator, not government, with the right to pursue happiness.
What freedom could be more basic and personal than the right to marry the person you love?
If we are serious in our belief that every citizen is endowed by his or her creator with the right to pursue happiness, then how can this not include the freedom to marry? What could be more central to a person’s happiness? And alternatively, if we want a smaller, less obtrusive government, shouldn’t individuals, not politicians, decide who they can marry?
Maximizing freedom isn’t the only conservative value enhanced by allowing civil marriage for same-gender couples. It will promote stability, responsibility and commitment — family values that conservatives often encourage in public policy.
Marriage encourages people to think beyond their own needs, to create loving households, to build a support network so people can be cared for in sickness, old age and hard times.
Shouldn’t we want these conservative values to be available to all families? As Ted Olson, solicitor general for President George W. Bush, who has successfully argued some of the most important conservative cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, recently wrote: “The fact that individuals who happen to be gay want to share in this vital social institution is evidence that conservative ideals enjoy widespread acceptance. Conservatives should celebrate this.”
Finally, the proposed amendment approved by Kieckhefer and his Democratic colleagues adds new protections that strengthen religious liberty while advancing other critical values shared by so many Americans of faith.
If passed by the Assembly in the coming weeks and by both chambers again in 2015, the amendment would give Nevada voters the final say in whether to allow same-gender couples to obtain a civil marriage license. The amendment would not require a private religious institution to recognize or perform a wedding. Churches and religious institutions would be protected against litigation, and their nonprofit tax status could not be challenged based on their views regarding marriage.
As Republicans, we respect the individual and work to empower people to live as they see fit, with as little intrusion by the government as practical. This idea is grounded in the Golden Rule to treat others as we would like to be treated.
Put yourself in your neighbor’s shoes. How would you feel if, even though you paid the same taxes, potentially served in the same military and followed the same rules as your neighbor, your government denied you the right to marry the person you love?
Among Republicans in national polls, support for marriage has increased by 50 percent in the past three years, and a growing majority of conservatives under 30 now favor this basic freedom.
This isn’t surprising. The freedom to marry is consistent with core conservative and American values — limited government, personal responsibility, commitment and, above all, freedom for all.
Ken Mehlman is the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a businessman in New York.