I am close friends with a Tea Party-attending libertarian. (I'll pause to allow gasps of shock.)
Our friendship is sustained by the usual things -- common interests and hobbies, sense of humor, etc. We're both passionate about current events and politics, though as you might expect, we often disagree on the latter.
I've never had an issue with those who believe in fiscal conservatism and small government. I understand the whys and wherefores of that. I even agree, as most people would, that the U.S. generally should try not to run the deficit sky-high when possible. It's the issues of "social conservatism" that often pull the anger and frustration out of me. Anti-immigration, anti-gay, anti-secular, anti-choice - the usual suspects of ignorance and fear.
I don't lump my Tea Partying friend "Ben" with their ilk, nor does he define himself as a social conservative. He opposes gay marriage, but not because he's ignorant or bigoted. He's neither. Like in many of our political conversations, I don't agree with him, but believe it or not, I understand his point of view.
Ben (whose pseudonym here is taken from one of his heroes, Ben Franklin) believes strongly in separation of church and state. So much so that he opposes all legally recognized marriages. If he was in charge, all marriages would be religious in nature and have no legal or civil impact whatsoever. If churches want to ban gay marriage, that's fine, because they're private entities.
Similar to the Boy Scouts' policy, it's unfortunate, and it's a policy one hopes they'll reconsider, but it's their decision. Gay, straight, bi or trans, if two people (or three, four or five as far as he's concerned) want their partnership legally recognized, then only civil unions will do.
This is a perspective I can understand, and even support. However, the point of disagreement between Ben and me is on the practical implications of this particular belief. I posed a hypothetical to him: If gay marriage was made a ballot issue in our state, how would he vote? He answered that he would vote against it, on the principles explained above. I found this somewhat surprising; and not-so-surprisingly the discussion that followed was a bit heated.
We both know he's not homophobic or a bigot, but regardless of the reasoning behind it, I insisted that voting against gay marriage is most certainly a bigoted act. He retorted that it wasn't, and that if a vote on all marriage came up he'd vote against that, too. But that issue had no plausible shot of arising anytime soon, I responded, whereas gay marriage is currently looming large in propositions and candidates' campaigns across the country. Ben did not see this as cause to alter his ethics, however.
What I think this comes down to is weighing the means and the ends, during which we confront the same unavoidable notion that divides our Congress and makes our country dysfunctional: compromise. From my perspective, the means are Ben's ideals. He means well (as we all do), but his inability to adapt the more unfeasible facets of his beliefs to more attainable current goals creates an end of supporting the continued injustice of bigotry. From his perspective, the means of stoically holding the line of his beliefs is the least he can do to contribute to the end of making the country the better place it should be - real separation of church and state, dispatching the two-party system, a simpler tax code, etc.
We both believe we're right, and both of us have merit. The question is how can we compromise so that LGBT people receive our deserved rights? I'd gladly vote to repeal all civil marriage and institute civil unions, but the chances of that movement taking hold are very slim at present. As I see it, that's really the only bargaining chip I can offer Ben on this issue. This undoubtedly smacks of one-sidedness to him. I know I wouldn't like to make a concession then never see the favor returned within my lifetime, but how else can we arrive at our shared goal of equality? Just like our Congress, there doesn't seem to be much of a chance to meet halfway.
While the paths of thought Ben and I traverse may be radically different and full of political landmines, we both arrive at the same location. Both us knowing this is what allows us to be friends while we (sometimes angrily) yell at one another "You're going the wrong way!"