Posted by Brad @ 8:30 am on October 28th 2011

Ron Paul: Coherence on Gay Rights?

In a comment to a previous thread, Rojas made the following point which I think is dead-on:

His stances on gay rights issues are, frankly, incoherent. I don’t think even he knows where he stands on these matters on a day-to-day basis; he seems to be one of those people who’s been personally uncomfortable with homosexuality his whole life and who is only now coming to terms with it as a societal reality and squaring it with the rest of his ideology.

I think this reading, while perhaps not satisfying to those that want to paint Paul as either a conscious social conservative bigot actively trying to retard gay rights, or as a libertarian personal savior who really doesn’t mean whatever he might say that doesn’t fit into that paradigm, nevertheless has the benefit of probably being true. To it I would only add that occasionally Paul seems guilty to me of substituting a philosophical abstraction for a pragmatic solution to an immediate problem (as they did with Rand in his Civil Rights Act discursion). Which is fair enough, although A. that shouldn’t be confused with outright hostility or some kind of conscious-dodge-masking-a-real-agenda, and B. what do you want, it’s Ron Paul?

Anyway, this interview with the Iowa State Daily News caught my eye. Ron Paul on gay rights, in Iowa, circa this week:

Since Iowa State has a thriving homosexual community, I asked how gays fit into Paul’s philosophy of freedom. The congressman cringed at the question and shook his head in frustration.

“You know I just, I don’t think of people in little groups like that. I don’t think of people as ‘gay’ here and ‘black people’ there, or ‘women’ over here…Everybody is an individual person and everybody has the same rights as anyone else. The government has no business in your private life, you know, so if one person is allowed to do something so should everyone else. The whole gay marriage issue is a private affair and the federal government has no say.”

With the recent death of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I suggested to Congressman Paul that the issue isn’t likely to go away any time soon, and asked how he would address gays in the military as president.

“Well, like I said, everybody has the same rights as everybody else, so homosexuals in the military isn’t a problem. It’s only if they’re doing things they shouldn’t be, if they’re disruptive. But there’s … men and women getting into trouble with each other too. And there’s a lot more heterosexuals in the military, so logically they’re causing more trouble than gays. So yes, you just have the same rules for everybody and treat them all the same.” Paul voted for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

This is, of a kind, the same answer he’s always given on (the whole “I don’t want to get into the subject of civil rights for Group X specifically because I view the whole segmentation premise itself as invalid and in my ideal society it doesn’t matter”). But he does seem to be doing what Rojas noticed: coming to terms and squaring. At the very least, I find it very, very hard to read Ron Paul on gay rights and come away with a sense that, on a policy level, he would be specifically hostile to them. Not particularly risen to be proactive, sure, but the line that Paul is a social conservative (in a policy sense) in libertarian clothing, a bigot, and would be actively engaged in trying to suppress gay rights, to be…hysteric.

As Reason notes, taken together his stance on gay marriage and DADT puts him to the left of Barack Obama on the subject – and certainly to the left of ever other Republican polling over 1%.


  1. “I think this reading … has the benefit of probably being true.”

    Something can be “probably true” and still suffer from not being particularly explanatory.

    What so many libertarians refuse to process about Ron Paul is the pesky fact that he simply is not a libertarian. He is a neo-confederate who worships at the altar of the false god of “state’s rights.”

    What makes Paul “cringe” is not the fact that he finds gays to be icky (he clearly does). Rather, it’s the fact that the gay rights debate makes him confront the fallacy of his supporters who believe he champions equal protection specifically or individual liberty generally.

    One last time: Ron Paul does NOT hate government. He only hates the federal government. That may be a necessary condition to make one a libertarian, but it is not a sufficient condition.

    Stated differently: The “least fatal” poison will still kill you. Anyone who wishes to drink the concoction that is “Ron Paul” can do so with my compliments. I will have no part of it.

    Comment by KipEsquire — 10/28/2011 @ 10:14 am

  2. Stated different, is perfect the enemy of the good?

    Or, is a neo-confederate position worse or better, for gay rights, than the traditional social conservative one? Marked against an ideal (that I imagine you and I both share), it is clearly worse–but then so is everything else (from Obama “centrism” to social conservative hostility). Is it your take that neo-confederatism is particularly objectionable (which is certainly a defensible, if arguable, position), or just not the ideal (and, since you strike me as a bit of an absolutist (and why shouldn’t you be), therefore entirely unacceptable).

    I do agree with you, and said above, that I think too many libertarians like to read views into Paul. Still, at the end of the day, I have a real hard time throwing around the argument that that makes him unacceptable (again, unless everything is unacceptable), and I have an equally hard time buying the argument that a Ron Paul America would be worse for gays than, say, a Clinton or Perry or Obama one.

    Comment by Brad — 10/28/2011 @ 10:31 am

  3. One other minor point of pushback: Ron Paul has been on the record for years as being supportive of DADT. Now that Obama has gotten it overturned, suddenly Paul is OK with that repeal, and assessed by Reason and you as to the “left” of Obama on this subject? Really? How is someone who incoherently opposed repeal “to the left” of the guy who got this unnecessary civil rights restricting policy repealed?

    Comment by Jack — 10/28/2011 @ 8:02 pm

  4. Adding DADT and gay marriage together, Paul’s total position is to the left of Obama.

    Comment by Brad — 10/29/2011 @ 11:54 am

  5. That’s just a convenient partisan interpretation. Obama got DADT repealed while Paul opposed such repeal. What has Paul done to get gay marriage enacted? I mean other than some occasional statements contradicting a long history of less, er, civil libertarian things he has said.

    Comment by Jack — 10/30/2011 @ 7:26 pm

  6. Let me elaborate: faced with the gay marriage question, Paul now does what he so often has with difficult civil liberties quesions: avoids an actual position on the issue in favor of a rejection of one level of government’s regulation in favor of a different level of government’s restrictions. He claims to favor states’ determination of gay marriage issues. to interenpret this as him being supportive of gay marriage is an extraordinary leap of faith, and I am not sure how supporting a state’s determination on the issue is all that different than opposition to a Federal Marriage Amendment, which Obama opposes. So what is the Brad/Reason justificaiton for calling him to the left of Obama on gay marriage, much less gay rights?

    Comment by Jack — 10/30/2011 @ 8:40 pm

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