‘Is There a Place for Gay People in Conservatism and Conservative Politics?’ is the name of an event taking place later today at the CATO Institute in Washington DC. The BBC Today programme picked up on the event and included an interview between Evan Davis (openly gay BBC presenter/journalist), Nick Herbert (openly gay member of the Conservative Shadow Cabinet) and Andrew Sullivan (openly gay leading journalist at centre-right newspaper The Sunday Times – the biggest UK Sunday newspaper). Wind the clock back 15 years and the mere of existence of such an interview would be headline news.

The interview was to discuss the DC event. The CATO Institute describes it’s mission in the phrase ‘liberty, free markets and peace’, although if one applies the Simon Hoggart maxim of ‘if the opposite sounds ridiculous you shouldn’t say it’, I’m not sure the description is as helpful as it might at first seem. The purpose of this event is described on their website and it seems to be from the starting point that David Cameron (Brit leader of the Conservative party for all those US readers who have never heard of ‘our Dave’) is some sort of political wizard, describing the event as:

‘Under the leadership of David Cameron, Britain’s Conservative Party has jettisoned much of its former opposition to gay rights. Cameron supported civil unions for gays and appointed a number of openly gay men to his shadow cabinet. Nick Herbert will explain the reasons for those changes and elaborate on the new Conservative social agenda. Will the United States follow the British example? Our distinguished panel will consider the future of gay people’s participation in mainstream society and conservative politics on both sides of the Atlantic.’

The panel for the event consists of: Nick Herbert, MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Conservative Party, United Kingdom; Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish Blog, The Atlantic; and Maggie Gallagher, President, National Organization for Marriage.

Personally, I really don’t think the next election is in the bag for the Conservatives (by any means) so I think in some respects this event may well be premature. It’s been repeatedly shown that Tory party after 2010 election (win, lose or draw) is likely to be far more right wing than the one booted out in 1997. Members of LGBTory often comes across as startlingly right wing but they are openly gay, encouraging and supporting gay candidates and to be found playing out in gay bars and clubs up and down the country. Whilst, their earlier incarnation, TORCHE, was knocking about in the 1990s, it seemed to be no more than a fringe group consisting of a small band of activists. Sexuality becomes a minor issue, an issue of gloss rather than something that defines the person and given people have always voted on the basis of a broad range of issues – taxation, public services, transport, immigration etc, it has always surprised me that people have assumed you can’t be gay and a Conservative.

In any case, what seems to happened is that the reforms of the last fifteen years have themselves been re-cast as conservative. Marriage is a Conservative/conservative ideal – notions family and stability. On sex issues – sex work/prostitution, ‘violent’ pornography and BDSM, I don’t envisage there being any clear difference between the two main parties in terms of practical outcome. In the US, Perry/Prop 8 lawyer, Ted Olson has made the Conservative argument for gay marriage and so the trick is less about re-positioning the party, as it is re-positioning the issue. What will be interesting to see under a Conservative government (if it happens) will be how our notions of civil partnerships evolves as they become ingrained in our culture and the Tories adopt ‘family’ policies.

Listen to the BBC interview here.

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