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OutRight: The Perils of Paul

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Review what Texas’ presidential hopeful stands for.

DaleCarpenterThe primaries and caucuses for the 2008 presidential race loom, so what’s a gay Republican to do? For many, the answer has been Ron Paul. He’s not going to win any primaries, but a vote for him could be thought a protest against the theocratic tendencies of the party. It could also be a vote for libertarian principle, which appeals to some. Yet while some of Paul’s views are superficially appealing, he’s a very bad choice.

Let’s start with what’s attractive about Paul. First, he’s not the other GOP candidates. With the exception of Sen. John McCain, they’re about as politically and ideologically unlovely a lot as one can imagine. They’re nativist and anti-evolution.

Several are running for National Pastor instead of president. On gay issues, they’re as bad as we’ve ever had. The two candidates with gay-friendly records—Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney—have abandoned their erstwhile principles to cozy up to religious conservatives.

All of them support Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. All, except McCain, support some kind of antigay-marriage constitutional amendment. Giuliani, who initially opposed any amendment, has since wobbled.

In walks Ron Paul, formerly a country doctor, promising to limit government and sticking by his principles. He would abolish the IRS, the income tax system, and the departments of Education, Energy, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services. He would eliminate Medicare and end student loans for education. He would even get government out of the medical licensing business. As he put it in an interview with Google, this means your neighbor could dispense medications.

Part of this is intriguing. If we were starting the world over again, it might make sense to do a lot of things very differently from the way we do them now.

But we are not at liberty to begin the world anew. Taken together, Dr. Paul’s radical prescriptions would entail a massive disruption of life in the United States as we know it. Millions of elderly Americans depend on Medicare for basic medical needs. Student loans have given a college education to millions of middle- and lower-income students whose financial needs were not met by private markets. Every person a pharmacist? I’m sorry, but that’s just loony. It’s also typically reckless of Paul.

He wants the U.S. to quit the United Nations and withdraw from just about every important treaty it has entered. This guarantees applause from conspiracy theorists who think U.S. “sovereignty” is endangered, but it’s stupid foreign policy.

He says he supports free trade, but opposes the agreements that have made trade freer.

The best that could be said about a Paul presidency is that almost nothing he believes would become law. We might as well elect Daffy Duck.

But isn’t Paul the best of the Republicans on gay issues?

Paul’s opposition to a federal marriage amendment is welcome. But he voted for the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as heterosexual for federal purposes. DOMA substantially reduced the legal significance of marriage even for same-sex couples in states where their unions might be permitted.

In an interview with ABC’s John Stossel, Paul said that he supports gay marriage. Then he explained what he meant: “Sure, they can do whatever they want and they can call it whatever they want, just so they don’t expect to impose their relationship on somebody else. They can’t make me, personally, accept what they do, but they can do whatever they want.”

There’s more than a whiff of homophobia in this. It’s akin to, “They have a right to their disgusting lives.”

More importantly, it’s not clear what he means by saying gay couples can call their relationships “whatever they want.” If he means that gay couples can contract for certain legal rights and call what results a “marriage,” that’s nothing new. Full legal marriage “imposes” on people in all kinds of ways since married couples have state-granted rights and benefits others don’t have.

Paul’s answer to this is to abolish marriage as it exists, to “privatize” it. State-sponsored marriage is bound up in our law at all levels of government. Ending state involvement in it has as little public support as any imaginable policy proposal. So it’s naïve at best and a cynical dodge at worst to offer gay families “privatized” marriage as the answer to the practical problems they face right now.

Paul says citizens should be able to serve in the military as long as their sexuality is not “disruptive.” That suggests he’d apply the same standard to heterosexuals and homosexuals in uniform. But the whole point of opposition to gays in the military is that homosexuality itself degrades unit morale and cohesion. Paul has had nothing to say about this.

Personally, I’d vote for McCain. While I disagree with him on a few things, including campaign finance limitations, he’s the candidate in the GOP field with the most potential to be a good president. He has the integrity, the life experience, and the national-security credentials for it. Alone among the Democratic or Republican candidates, he has the credibility with military leaders to end or at least to weaken DADT, if he decided to do that. The others are all talk on the issue.

A vote for Paul, on the other hand, is a flight from responsibility. He is too ideologically hard and pure to be president. A conscientious voter should think harder about the serious choices.

Writing from the conservative side, Dale Carpenter began his column for OutSmart in 1994, when he lived in Houston. Now residing in Minneapolis, Carpenter is a University of Minnesota Law School professor.

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