About a week ago, I wrote a post on same-sex marriage and how those of us who support it should act towards those that oppose it. Can we be good winners to the losers?
Some of the response to that post got me thinking (and agonizing) over this issue. In two states, Kansas and Arizona, bills have made their way through the state legislature that would give people the right to refuse service to gays. I think both bills are unconstitutional on their face and bring to mind the dreadful memories of Jim Crow.
That said, these laws are the signs of a way of being that is passing. I as said in my previous post, those in favor of same sex marriage have won. But there is still something nagging me. How do we live with those who are the losers? How do we deal with those who say their opposition to gay marriage is based on religious teachings? Do we ignore them? Do we try to stamp them out? What is deemed as religious (even if we think it is weird) and what is not a religious practice?
The issue of a baker or florist refusing to serve a gay couple brings out conflicting emotions. I do think at some level there is the potential of bigotry behind that refusal. I also think that having laws where people can refuse service could cause chaos in our economy. But then I think about how someone who is a social conservative would see this. There’s something about compelling someone to do something they don’t agree with because of their interpretation of the Bible that bothers me deeply. Those of us on our side tend to see this simply as case of bigotry. Bigots don’t deserve protection and they should shut up and do their job. After all their “religious objection” is just a smoke screen for their hate.
But the thing is, seeing homosexuality as a sin was considered the normative teaching in our society until recently. That doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong, but we have to take in account that tradition is not something that you can easily dispose of.
The tactic that I have shared at times is that it’s okay to believe what you do in private, but in public you have to set your beliefs aside. But upon thinking on this, I found this reasoning to be bothersome. We are basically saying that their faith is a hobby that can be pursued at other times, but not when we enter the public square. For the faithful, religious belief is not something that is private, but very public. It orders every part of one’s life. I think it would be difficult for someone who might think that same sex marriage to have to set their belief aside. In fact, it wouldn’t make sense. Why would they knowingly put themselves in a position to sin?
About three years ago, writer Jonathan Rauch wrote about the change that was heading our way on marriage. He called on the LGBT community and allies to not immediately try to challenge the other side when it came to issues like refusing service to a gay couple. To do so would be to make social conservatives fears come true and would basically play into their hands. He writes:
…gay rights opponents have been quick, in fact quicker than our side, to understand that the dynamic is changing. They can see the moral foundations of their aversion to homosexuality crumbling beneath them. Their only hope is to turn the tables by claiming they, not gays, are the real victims of oppression. Seeing that we have moved the “moral deviant” shoe onto their foot, they are going to move the “civil rights violator” shoe onto ours.
So they have developed a narrative that goes like this:
Gay rights advocates don’t just want legal equality. They want to brand anyone who disagrees with them, on marriage or anything else, as the equivalent of a modern-day segregationist. If you think homosexuality is immoral or changeable, they want to send you to be reeducated, take away your license to practice counseling, or kick your evangelical student group off campus. If you object to facilitating same-sex weddings or placing adoptees with same-sex couples, they’ll slap you with a fine for discrimination, take away your nonprofit status, or force you to choose between your job and your conscience. If you so much as disagree with them, they call you a bigot and a hater.
They won’t stop until they stigmatize your core religious teachings as bigoted, ban your religious practices as discriminatory, and drive millions of religious Americans right out of the public square. But their target is broader than just religion. Their policy is one of zero tolerance for those who disagree with them, and they will use the law to enforce it.
At bottom, they are not interested in sharing the country. They want to wipe us out.
He continues writing what should be our response:
In a messy world where rights often collide, we can’t avoid arguing about where legitimate dissent ends and intolerable discrimination begins. What we can do is avoid a trap the other side has set for us. Incidents of rage against “haters,” verbal abuse of opponents, boycotts of small-business owners, absolutist enforcement of antidiscrimination laws: Those and other “zero-tolerance” tactics play into the “homosexual bullies” narrative, which is why our adversaries publicize them so energetically.
The other side, in short, is counting on us to hand them the victimhood weapon. Our task is to deny it to them.
I think we have to decide what level of discrimination is acceptable and what is off limits. As James Antle notes in his latest article, that at least according to the 1993 Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, there has to be a compelling interest for the state to force someone to violate their religious conscience:
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 seems to have this much right. Freedom of conscience isn’t absolute. But the government can only override religious conscience to serve a compelling interest and then must pursue that interest using the least coercive means available.
So even if there is a compelling public interest in ensuring access to contraception, if contraception can be made affordable and readily available through means other than forcing the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for contraception or contraceptive coverage, than those other less coercive means should be employed.
The same logic would seem to apply to participation in same-sex marriage services. If we can allow conscientious objectors to refuse to fight in wars, we can surely make some allowance for people to who don’t want to bake cakes, provide floral arrangements, or take photos at a particular wedding. A case could also be made that same-sex couples should prefer to send their business to vendors who share their values.
A sense of proportion matters here. It’s unlikely that we are talking about very many businesses, and even fewer large companies. In some parts of the country, at least, vendors who take this stand risk being picketed out of existence. A few news stories about a same-sex couple who was refused service in their town could easily attract a flood of free wedding cakes, floral arrangements, and photography offers from other more supportive businesses.
He also brings up something that I’ve been thinking about. The analogy that has been used likening these proposed laws to segregation doesn’t really work:
Should gay business owners be forced to provide services to Chick-fil-A, Phil Robertson or organizations that lobby against same-sex marriage? Should gay advertising executives be compelled to write ads in defense of the Defense of Marriage Act? Freedom of conscience applies here too. So does the market’s ability to punish irrational discrimination and a business’s willingness to turn away paying customers.
If a Muslim fundamentalist car dealer refused to sell automobiles to women on religious grounds, even if it was not against the law, he would almost certainly go out of business. (If he didn’t, then immigration laws might need to be revised rather than the First Amendment.)
This is where the Jim Crow analogy, used by Kirsten Powers and others, fails. People often argue for or against the civil-rights laws of the 1960s on the basis of abstract principles, pitting generic equality against generic freedom of association, but they were in fact a reaction to a very specific set of circumstances.
Jim Crow was a system of extensive discrimination, not isolated incidents. It relied on the state enforcement of laws requiring racial separation and the non-enforcement of laws banning private acts of violence when the victims were black. It denied blacks’ constitutional rights and was rooted in state government coercion and social customs so powerful they were largely impervious to market forces. The federal government had repeatedly attempted to remedy these problems through more modest measures.
It is theoretically possible that allowing a New Mexico photographer to refrain from taking pictures at a same-sex wedding ceremony—or more plausibly, allowing the Kansas legislature to enact the previously mentioned bill—would create conditions like this for gays. But it is not very likely.
I would agree. On the surface the two seem the same, but not in context. The Jim Crow that my father lived through in Louisiana was not simply one person refusing him service, but an entire system that was placed into law. There is a difference between the two, not that refusing a gay couple is okay, but it is not backed by a system of laws, at least not in every state but Arizona it seems.
The point of my rambling is that those of us in favor of same sex marriage and those opposed have to find a way to tolerate each other. Those who have a traditional understanding of sexuality have to understand that being gay is becoming more and more normative. LGBT folk and their allies have to understand that the other side isn’t going away anytime soon and in many cases they are compelled to follow what they interpret to be from God (even if we think this is pure hogwash). We have to learn to coexist, because this tit for tat war of stigmatizing is futile and for those of us who are Christian not very Christ-like. We have to learn to love the other even if we think they are wrong.
I want to end with the words of fellow pastor Trevor Lee who has this to say about tolerance:
Tolerance now means completely accepting viewpoints that culture, and especially the media and TV/movie industry deem correct. Many of these viewpoints are against traditional moral stances. So those who hold to the “outdated” views are intolerant. Yet this has almost nothing to do with tolerance. In fact, very often those who rail against those “intolerant people” are being intolerant in the process. Here’s what it comes down to…
You do not tolerate someone or something you agree with.
The dictionary defines tolerance as “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from [emphasis mine] one’s own.” So the only people and opinions we can logically tolerate are those we disagree with. If we change our opinions and beliefs we would now be tolerant by continuing to respect and treat with dignity those we used to agree with. I am for tolerance (really I’m more for love than tolerance, but we’ll get to that in a minute), but this is teetering on the edge of being a useless word in our culture.
I pray for more tolerance in our society. On all sides.