- - Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Though it has been described by critics and supporters alike as an “ultra-conservative” force champing at the culture war bit, the House Freedom Caucus has taken a left turn on the sexual revolution under the leadership of Pennsylvania Republican Scott Perry, its chairman.

Over the summer, he voted in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would codify federal protections for same-sex marriage. In a statement to the York Daily Record, Mr. Perry framed his position as a defense of the individual against intrusions by the federal government. “Agree or disagree with same-sex marriage, my vote affirmed my long-held belief that Americans who enter into legal agreements deserve to live their lives without the threat that our federal government will dissolve what they’ve built,” he said. 

But this is misdirection, or an incorrect understanding of the stakes, because the bill would, in reality, “dissolve” the ability of states to defend marriage before the LGBT mandate of the federal government.

According to research by the National Conference of State Legislatures and Stateline, 35 states ban same-sex marriage in their constitutions, state laws or both. The Respect for Marriage Act would make it impossible to enforce these bans and laws in the event of Obergefell v. Hodges being overturned. Members of the Freedom Caucus appear to understand this. They publicly urged Senate Republicans to oppose the bill over and against Mr. Perry’s support.

Then came the Protect Children’s Innocence Act, introduced by Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. The bill would make it a felony to inflict “transition therapy” — including administering puberty blockers and hormones — on minors. It would also prohibit federal funds from subsidizing the practice and prohibit colleges and universities from offering instruction on it.

In a word, the bill would acknowledge these procedures for what they are: quackery. It was not so long ago that accredited physicists and physicians believed that radioactive radium could restore sexual vigor, while advertisers, manufacturers and medical practitioners constructed notions of gender and sexuality to promote and facilitate the use of these dangerous products. Sex reassignment is merely the 21st-century version of the radium suppository and the “radiendocrinator,” a device physicians advised men to place under their scrotum at night like an athletic strap to enhance virility. In reality, much like “gender-affirming care,” it simply sterilized them.

At a glance, several members of the Freedom Caucus are among the co-sponsors of Mrs. Greene’s bill. But Mr. Perry’s name is conspicuously absent. Mr. Perry — or his staff — initially indicated support for the bill, but shortly thereafter withdrew, leaving his colleagues to speculate.

Mr. Perry could argue that it would be inappropriate for the federal government to take a stance on LGBT issues. But that position would be at odds with his support of the federal codification of same-sex marriage. He could also claim that this is about maximizing individual autonomy. But that, too, would conflict with Mr. Perry’s conservative position on abortion, which entails restrictions justifiable on personal freedom. Moreover, it is dissenting parents who increasingly find their parental autonomy infringed upon by teachers, social workers and doctors eager to “transition” their children.

Simply put, there is no justification for Mr. Perry’s absence from Mrs. Greene’s bill that is consistent with the conservative principles his group claims to represent.

In a recent interview with Axios about the future of the Freedom Caucus, Mr. Perry said there is more unity than usual among Republicans when they are the minority party. “Everybody’s in the Freedom Caucus right now on the Republican side,” he said. “That’ll change when you’re in the majority. Somebody has to be the conscience of the conference and actually do the things we said we were going to do on the campaign trail.”

But the GOP doesn’t need to wait until it is in the majority to recover a conscience it doesn’t have, and it is strange to hear Mr. Perry say that “everybody’s in the Freedom Caucus” when the caucus itself seems divided, paralleling the broader identity crisis of the party. The Republican base is still reeling from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to abandon Blake Masters, the Senate candidate in Arizona, in what looks like a self-serving move. 

But in another sense, the real identity crisis derives from the fact the Freedom Caucus was founded as a libertarian movement, more concerned with lower taxes and “growth” than social issues and the culture war.

Nevertheless, the moment of decision is at hand. The time for leadership with a conscience isn’t after midterms — it is now.

• Pedro L. Gonzalez is the associate editor at Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.

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