What do Clint Eastwood, Dick Cheney, Ted Olson, and John Bolton have in common? All are strong, lifelong conservatives. Each has fought on behalf of smaller government. And all support the freedom of same-sex couples to marry.

As Minnesota voters consider the proposed constitutional marriage amendment, right-leaning voters should consider why these prominent conservatives believe the freedom to marry is consistent with our values.

Conservatives have built a broad coalition, united around a single goal: more freedom, less government. It's key to our heritage and inherent to our DNA.

Freedom of Americans across all races is why the Republican Party was founded. And our most important accomplishments, from the economic growth unleashed when we've lowered taxes and reduced regulation to the fall of the Berlin Wall, have resulted when we promoted freedom. Our concept of freedom is based in the Declaration of Independence, where every American was provided by their creator, not government, with the right to pursue happiness.

As former Vice President Dick Cheney noted in explaining why he supports civil marriage for all American couples, "freedom means freedom for everyone." He's right.

What freedom is more basic and personal than the right to marry the person you love?

If we are serious in our belief that every citizen is endowed by his or her creator with the right to pursue happiness, then how can this not include the freedom to marry? What could be more central to a person's happiness? And alternatively, if we want a smaller, less obtrusive government, shouldn't individuals and not politicians decide who they can marry?

Maximizing freedom isn't the only conservative value enhanced by allowing civil marriage for same-gender couples. It will promote stability, responsibility and commitment -- family values that we often encourage in public policy. Marriage encourages people to think beyond their own needs, to create loving households, to build a support network so people can be cared for in sickness, old age and hard times.

Shouldn't we want these conservative values to be available to all families? As Ted Olson -- solicitor general for President George W. Bush and who has successfully argued some of the most important conservative cases before the U.S. Supreme Court -- recently wrote: "The fact that individuals who happen to be gay want to share in this vital social institution is evidence that conservative ideals enjoy widespread acceptance. Conservatives should celebrate this."

Finally, this amendment is not necessary to religious liberty, and could instead inhibit the rights of private institutions, including churches and synagogues. Because some churches want to marry same-gender couples while others don't, states that have permitted marriage expressly include a conscience clause. These states simply permitted civil marriage licenses by government officials, while private institutions like churches can either choose to marry same-gender couples or not marry based on their beliefs.

But this amendment would put a one-size-fits-all government mandate on all private institutions, including our churches, by telling them that any marriage they choose to perform is null and void for the purposes of Minnesota.

As Republicans, we respect the individual and work to empower people to live as they see fit, with as little intrusion by the government as practical. This idea is grounded in an important Judeo-Christian value that we should all treat others as we would like to be treated.

Put yourself in your neighbor's shoes. How would you feel if, even though you paid the same taxes, potentially served in the same military and followed the same rules as your neighbor, your government denied you the freedom to marry the person you loved in ceremony?

Same-sex couples want to marry for reasons similar to other couples. They want a lasting bond that can endure through good times and bad, through sickness and health, and that will bring stability as they continue life together.

Clint Eastwood, Dick Cheney, John Bolton and Ted Olson are not alone. Recent surveys today show that more Americans favor the freedom to marry than oppose it. Among Republicans, the number has increased by 50 percent in the past three years, and a majority of conservatives under 30 favor this basic freedom.

This isn't surprising. The freedom to marry is consistent with core conservative and American values -- limited government, personal responsibility, commitment and, above all, freedom for all.


Ken Mehlman is former Republican National Committee Chairman and now a businessman in New York City.