Sunday, April 19, 2015

Gay Marriage and the Bigotry of American Liberals

I’m an American heterosexual man and fervent Catholic. Nonetheless, I have for some time wondered if there may not be room in Christian culture, even Catholic culture, for acceptance of same-sex marriage. Last year I began systematic study of related theological issues in hopes of discerning possibilities. Though I've no solid conclusions yet, I continue to research and think through the Church's teachings. Theology, however, is not the topic of this post. I only intend to point out, here at the outset, that I see this subject as an important one.

In any case, I have no animus against LGBT people. For most of my adult life, which began in the 1980s, I’ve supported them in their struggles. My support, however, is starting to take a beating.

The thing is: I do have a strong animus against LGBT activists’ recent efforts to use the power of the state to effectively force people to agree with them on marriage. Such force is clearly not the way to go. But gay activists and their supporters evidently disagree, because they’re moving that way like a freight train.

If a restaurant refused to serve food to a gay or lesbian couple simply because of their sexual orientation, I’d recognize that couple’s right to sue the restaurant for discrimination. Eating in a restaurant, or staying in a hotel, or shopping--all these are neutral activities, and as a business owner one does not have the right to refuse customers because of who they are.

But the people of faith in America whose livelihoods are now threatened by lawsuits did not in fact “refuse to serve” gays or lesbians--as liberals claim. Study the cases. Nowhere did a baker refuse to make a birthday cake or a graduation cake. Nowhere did a florist refuse to arrange get-well flowers for a friend. Nowhere was there a general refusal of service.

No, the recent cases over gay weddings are something else entirely. They are about people of faith declining to contribute creative work toward weddings their religion teaches against. And here the more compelling right is on the side of the religious business person. Our constitution requires protection of religious liberty, a crucial part of which is protecting people from being compelled to engage in activities that contradict their faith.

Consider the sad case of 70-year-old florist Barronelle Stutzman. Did gay marriage supporters really want their movement to lead to this kind of state persecution? Because state persecution is precisely what it is. Go read the link if you’re not familiar with the case. It is sobering, and just one of a growing number of similar cases.

The State of Washington on its own initiative decided to raise suit against Stutzman. Understandably, the state has an interest in protecting LGBT people from discrimination. But there are ways to balance LGBT couples’ rights not to be discriminated against and the rights of people of faith to hold to their faith as they see fit. We might tailor laws to meet the needs of both sides in a reasonable compromise. It’s not impossible.

Louisiana is exploring a religious freedom statute at present that would protect religious people from suits raised specifically in relation to marriage. Such laws are needed. The problem is that whenever they are are proposed, the now ascendant liberal fundamentalism screams out: “Bigotry!”

Sorry, but bigotry is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. I would argue that in cases like Stutzman’s it’s the religious person who is the more obvious victim of bigotry. She is one of a growing number of victims of an ascendant anti-Christian bigotry.

And talk about animus. Going to a Facebook page in support of Barronelle Stutzman as I prepared this article, here were the two visitor comments that appeared first:

This is what bigotry looks like. And such attitudes and this kind of language have grown ever more widespread among professedly "liberal" Americans. Remember: These are posts aimed at a 70-year-old grandmother who’d never said anything hateful against gays and whose only crime was politely refusing to make flowers for a gay wedding.

Because Stutzman sincerely believes such a wedding offends against her faith, she should not be forced to offer her services toward celebration of said wedding. It’s simple as that. Given that the meaning of marriage is clearly substantive in her religion, whether she’s willing to offer work toward this or that wedding is a matter of her own religious liberty.

I strongly believe every American has the right to live their life the way they choose. The success of the gay marriage movement in legalizing their marriages vis-a-vis the state does not however give them the right to force other Americans, who have their own traditional ideas of marriage, to participate in their weddings.

Many Americans who like myself have long felt solidarity with gays and lesbians in their struggles are now starting to recoil at what the LGBT movement has turned into. There’s a growing disgust at the arrogance, the cultural narrowness, the assumption that the public arena now belongs entirely to them. To hear them say it, in their own words, dissenters against their agenda should just shut up or expect to lose their jobs.

Most Americans support a kind of classical liberalism, strongly pluralistic, which envisions a public sphere where groups with widely divergent goals and ideals can coexist and in which the rights of different groups are protected in a balanced way. Writing in relation to the marriage debate last year, Damon Linker sagely summed up his own support for such a vision, while underlining how the gay marriage movement had started to betray this vision. Sadly, things have only gotten worse since then. (See also Linker’s follow-up piece.)

One of my literary heroes, the satirist George Saunders, describes a healthy America as follows: “America, to me, should be shouting all the time, a bunch of shouting voices, most of them wrong, some of them nuts, but please, not just one droning glamorous reasonable voice.”

Sadly, our current liberal elites are precisely what Saunders warns against: droning and glamorous and, in their own narrow minds, reasonable.

Liberal fundamentalism, now most strongly in the same-sex marriage movement, is becoming a threat to American pluralism.

I call them “lib-fundies”. Perhaps a definition is in order.

Lib-fundie (liberal fundamentalist): A person who believes that American separation of church and state means that individuals cannot express or live by religious convictions in public. The lib-fundie thus thinks a student expressing thanks to God in a graduation address is out of line, or that a street corner preacher, standing on a public sidewalk, should be shut up by police.

Lib-fundies favor ever-increasing legal encroachments on expression of religious beliefs. They assume that truth and belief in God are mutually contradictory notions, and that right law is a matter of ensuring their own views become obligatory on all citizens.

Lib-fundies pay lip service to religious freedom to the extent that they will say: “If you want to teach your children Bible stories at home, that’s your right” or “You can go to your church or temple and worship any way you want.” It has been widely noted that in public pronouncements Barack Obama regularly replaces "freedom of religion" with "freedom of worship". The purpose of the shift is clear. According to Obama's phraseology, expression of religious beliefs is not proper to the public arena.

By their very language lib-fundies reveal their intention: To prevent religious Americans from speaking openly about their faith anywhere outside private homes or churches.

“Please close your windows and doors tightly before you talk about God. And please talk in hushed voices. Because in the public arena, only We know what’s best.”

That is the voice of the liberal consensus, and even a cursory study of our history will show that it is not in line with our Founders' original idea of "separation", which only entailed that no particular denomination should gain dominance over the state. It was never assumed that religious language was improper for a politician or that theologically-grounded thinking was improper in a political debate. It was most certainly never assumed that religious people should keep quiet in public about their beliefs.

Lib-fundies lamely identify progress with eradicating religion from Western culture. Contrary to the clear evidence of 20th century history, they believe the eradication of religion will usher in a Golden Age of peace and human flourishing. They conveniently forget the golden ages brought us by Stalin, Mao and Co.

As a Catholic, I will fight these people. That I share many of the goals of the American left in terms of the environment, workers’ rights, the struggle against corporate power--it makes my fight more conflicted. But fight them I will.

Americans who allow their support for the LGBT movement to push them toward throwing our traditions of religious liberty out the window are making a grave mistake.

Eric Mader

My new book Idiocy, Ltd. is now in print.

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