With the holiday season upon us, many are looking forward to heading home to spend time with their families. Whether it is lighting another candle on the menorah or decorating the Christmas tree, we all follow many traditions in this holiday season, some that we may not even realize. Similarly, there are many other traditions we follow in our day-to-day lives. Recently, while watching the news, it came to my attention that the city of Houston, Texas, just elected an openly gay mayor, Annise Parker. Although this is not the first openly gay mayor elected in the country, it is by far the largest community to elect a homosexual into office. Taking tradition into consideration, Edmund Burke would have a huge issue with the election of Ms. Parker.
While reading Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France”, Burke makes it clear that he believes tradition is important, especially in terms of our government. Burke says, “The science of constructing a commonwealth, or renovating it, or reforming it, is, like every other experimental science, not to be taught a priori.” He then continues, “The science of government being therefore so practical in itself and intended for such practical purposes – a matter which requires experience, and even more experience than any person can gain in his whole life…it is with infinite caution that any man ought to venture upon pulling down an edifice which has answered in any tolerable degree for ages the common purpose of society” (Burke, p. 514).
What we get from the previous quote from Burke is rather quite simple. Essentially, Burke is saying that we should not wander from the beaten path. The path that has gotten us to where we currently are has gradually evolved and been proven to be successful. Thus, it makes no sense to deviate from this tradition. From this, one could theoretically propose that Burke would say that Houston voters should not have voted Annise, an openly gay being, into office. This theory clearly would create controversy in today’s society, and Burke would be equally confused. To Burke, actions occurred because that is how they were done in the past. However, Burke still was posed with one dilemma that he could never put a straight answer to; how to preserve individual rights without creating prejudice in the meantime.
With this in mind, I started thinking about the larger issue at hand, gay rights (primarily marriage). This topic now becomes trickier. To this, I would argue that, Burke, being a conservative traditionalist, would be drastically against gay rights. The bible says that gay marriage should not be allowed, and I would have to say that Burke would agree.
On the other hand, however, I argue that Burke, if here in the present day, he would no longer be opposed to the right of gay marriage. While talking about following tradition, he makes one subtle acknowledgement. He acknowledges that we should accept tradition because it hasn’t failed us in the past, but he also says that tradition has evolved. This key word “evolution” leaves a glimmer of hope in today’s society for the eventual acceptance of gay marriage.
This issue clearly pinpoints the dilemma that Burke faced when thinking about personal rights. Although, he would traditionally disagree, Burke would find acceptance in this issue if it is agreed on by the majority of the people in the sovereign. Burke understands that tradition has been forged by small trials and errors, and thus would understand that if this is what people want, then it is just another adjustment to what we will begin to call tradition. Houston voters, electing Annise Parker into office, may be another step toward this traditional evolution.
Burke, Edmund. “Reflections on the Revolution in France”. Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche, Second Edition. Edited by David Wooton. Hackett Publishing, Inc. 2008