Hoisted from Others' Archives from a Year Ago: Jonathan Rauch: Opposing Gay Marriage Doesn’t Make You a Crypto-Racist
I must say I did not know what to make of this a year ago. I know even less what to make of this now:
It’s a flawed analogy. Here’s why.
I seem to have made an unexpected midlife career move, and no, it isn’t lucrative. After almost 20 years of standing on a soapbox for gay marriage, I am standing on another soapbox making the case for tolerating people who oppose same-sex marriage.
The other day, I joined 57 other supporters of gay marriage in a public statement called ‘Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent: Why We Must Have Both.’ You can read it here. You can even sign it here. I won’t repeat that argument. But I want to add something to it—something about race.
One objection to socially tolerating opposition to gay marriage comes up again and again. For many people, it seems to be the only way they can think about the issue. It’s this:
Isn’t opposition to gay marriage just like opposition to interracial marriage? We don’t tolerate racism. So we shouldn’t tolerate this.
Until the Supreme Court’s 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia, some states banned interracial marriage—just as most states today ban same-sex marriage. Then, as now, defenders of the iniquitous status quo made arguments based on religion, the nature of marriage, and the welfare of children and society. Today, of course, there is no excuse for supporting anti-miscegenation laws; such support would be beyond the pale of reasonable discussion in mainstream American life. And similarly there’s no excuse for opposing marriage equality. Someone like former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, who was forced out over his support for California’s ban on gay marriage, deserves no different treatment than the complete ostracism he would receive if he had said, ‘It’s just my personal belief, but blacks and whites shouldn’t be allowed to intermarry.’
So the argument goes. But it’s wrong.
Not entirely wrong, to be sure. There are important parallels between the Loving case and the gay marriage cases today. And there are also important parallels between the gay civil rights movement and its African-American predecessor. Gays were systematically excluded from jobs and careers, terrorized by thugs in order to keep us in our place, sometimes killed if we looked at someone the wrong way. Instead of protecting us, the police hounded and harassed us. Our churches were burned, our young people humiliated. Of course, our government systematically and openly discriminated against us. I could go on, but suffice to say this: People who deny any kinship between racism and homophobia are ignorant, malicious, or both.
But it is also a mistake to overlook some important differences. Differences which, in the context of the marriage debate, matter—and which gay marriage proponents ignore at our own peril.
(1) Marriage has always been gendered.
Virtually all human societies, including our own until practically the day before yesterday, took as a given that combining the two sexes was part of the essence of marriage. Indeed, the very idea of a same-sex marriage seemed to most people a contradiction in terms. In 1995, not so very long ago, my father warned me not to become a public advocate of gay marriage. He had nothing against gay people or same-sex unions, so what was the problem? ‘This idea is so far-fetched,’ he said, ‘people will think you’re a nut. You won’t be taken seriously as a journalist anymore.’ At the time, it seemed a very real prospect.
By contrast, marriage has not always been racist. Quite the contrary. People have married across racial (and ethnic, tribal, and religious) lines for eons, often quite deliberately to cement familial or political alliances. Assuredly, racist norms have been imposed upon marriage in many times and places, but as an extraneous limitation. Everyone understood that people of different races could intermarry, in principle. Indeed, that was exactly why racists wanted to stop it, much as they wanted to stop the mixing of races in schools. In both intent and application, the anti-miscegenation laws were about race, not marriage.
Why should this distinction matter today, if both kinds of discrimination are wrong? Because asking people to give up history’s traditional understanding of marriage is a big ask. You don’t expect thousands of years of unquestioned moral and social tradition to be relinquished overnight. And you don’t claim that holding to a venerable idea about marriage’s fundamental nature is morally the same as yoking marriage forcibly to a racist ideology which has nothing to do with it.
I wish more people would change their minds faster—though I am amazed, truth be told, at how fast they are changing their minds right now. (Here’s a startling comparison. Guess which was the first year when a majority of Americans told Gallup they approved of marriage between whites and blacks? Answer: 1997, 30 years after Loving.).
(2) Religion, unlike racism, is constitutionally protected, and opposition to gay marriage has deep religious roots.
The religious basis of the fiercest opposition to same-sex marriage is a truism. The anti-gay ‘clobber texts’ in the Bible, though overemphasized by homophobes, are really there. To their discredit, all three of the Abrahamic faith traditions condemn homosexual love, and all of them have theologies that see marriage as intrinsically heterosexual. Believe me, no one regrets this more than I do. Religious-based homophobia is every bit as harmful as the secular varieties, and often worse. (Very few other forces could lead parents to reject their own kids.) But gay-rights advocates cannot wish away the deep and abiding religious roots of anti-gay ideology.
Here again, racism is a different story. The defenders of anti-miscegenation laws in the 1960s claimed to have God on their side, but it was evident that they were distorting and abusing the tenets of their faith, not exercising them. Racism was not a core doctrine of mainstream Christianity or Judaism; rather, religion offered a powerful moral critique of racism (and religious leaders played a critical role in fighting it).
The First Amendment carves out special protections for religious belief and expression. That does not mean, of course, that Christian homophobes can discriminate as much as they want provided they quote the Bible. It does mean, at least for a while, courts and legislatures will strike compromises balancing gay rights and religious liberty, something they did not have to do with black civil rights. This makes gay marriage more complicated—legally, socially, and even ethically—than interracial marriage. And it means gay-marriage supporters will hit a constitutional brick wall if we try to condemn our opponents to immediate and total perdition.
And meanwhile? As the days tick by and the balancers balance, real-world gay people will suffer. Isn’t that unfair and burdensome? Indeed it is. But here I come to one more important difference from race:
(3) There is no political emergency.
By the early 1960s, black Americans had experienced two centuries of slavery, another century of Jim Crow, and a Southern campaign of ‘massive resistance’ to all ordinary political steps toward integration. It was painfully clear that ordinary politics was blocked by a regime of systematic violence, intimidation, and corruption. The racists who loosed dogs and fire hoses on children were capable of anything; nothing short of a full-scale national assault on racism could work. We would put troops on the streets if we had to.
Today gay Americans’ situation could not be more different. As was true for women’s rights advocates two generations ago, politics and persuasion are working, and working well. Already, in fact, a majority of American Catholics support gay marriage. Opposition is increasingly concentrated, and isolated, among white Protestant evangelicals, and even among them, the young are coming around.
Gay-rights advocates thus do not need or want emergency measures. We need time and voice to finish making our case. There are no dogs or fire hoses in our way. In that respect, the race analogy is not only misleading, it is counterproductive.
I recently talked to a gay-rights organizer whose job includes building support for marriage equality and anti-discrimination laws in conservative states, where gay people (especially kids) are most in need of such protections. She is not some internet activist posting comments; she deals with the daily realities of bringing about social change on the ground. When I asked if the analogy to racism was helpful, she groaned. No analogies are helpful, she replied, but this one is especially counterproductive. People snap into a defensive crouch and shut down. No one will trust or talk to someone who calls them, in effect, a racist, the worst thing you can be in America. Winning converts, finishing the fight, she said, requires taking people on a journey toward seeing marriage and homosexuality in a new light. It’s a process, and an accusatory approach aborts it.
The cause of gay equality, I believe, is as noble as the black civil rights movement was, and it shares the same creed: All men are created equal. But it moves in a different way, and in a different time. When marriage-equality advocates look in the mirror and see Mildred Loving or Martin Luther King, they see, thank goodness, another world, not our own.
And the "Public Statement":
Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent: Why We Must Have Both: "A Public Statement - April 22, 2014
The last few years have brought an astonishing moral and political transformation in the American debate over same-sex marriage and gay equality. This has been a triumph not only for LGBT Americans but for the American idea. But the breakthrough has brought with it rapidly rising expectations among some supporters of gay marriage that the debate should now be over. As one advocate recently put it, ‘It would be enough for me if those people who are so ignorant or intransigent as to still be anti-gay in 2014 would simply shut up.’
The signatories of this statement are grateful to our friends and allies for their enthusiasm. But we are concerned that recent events, including the resignation of the CEO of Mozilla under pressure because of an anti-same-sex-marriage donation he made in 2008, signal an eagerness by some supporters of same-sex marriage to punish rather than to criticize or to persuade those who disagree. We reject that deeply illiberal impulse, which is both wrong in principle and poor as politics.
We support same-sex marriage; many of us have worked for it, in some cases for a large portion of our professional and personal lives. We affirm our unwavering commitment to civic and legal equality, including marriage equality. At the same time, we also affirm our unwavering commitment to the values of the open society and to vigorous public debate—the values that have brought us to the brink of victory.
Diversity Is the Natural Consequence of Liberty
The gay rights struggle is about freedom and equality for all. The best and most free society is one that allows the largest number to live true to their core beliefs and identities. It is a society that allows its members to speak their minds and shape their own aspirations.
The natural consequence of true liberty is diversity. Unless a society can figure out a way to reach perfect agreement, conflicting views will be inevitable. Any effort to impose conformity, through government or any other means, by punishing the misguided for believing incorrectly will impoverish society intellectually and oppress it politically.
The test of our commitment to liberal principles is not our eagerness to hear ideas we share, but our willingness to consider seriously those we oppose.
Progress Comes from Persuasion
There is no evidence that Brendan Eich, the Mozilla CEO who resigned over his $1,000 donation to California’s Proposition 8 campaign, believed in or practiced any form of discrimination against Mozilla’s LGBT employees. That would be a very different case. He was pressured to leave because of personal political action he took at a time when a majority of the American public shared his view. And while he acknowledged the pain his donation caused, he did not publicly ‘recant,’ which some suggested he should have done as the price of keeping his job.
So the issue is cleanly presented: Is opposition to same-sex marriage by itself, expressed in a political campaign, beyond the pale of tolerable discourse in a free society? We cannot wish away the objections of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faith traditions, or browbeat them into submission. Even in our constitutional system, persuasion is a minority’s first and best strategy. It has served us well and we should not be done with it.
Free Speech Is a Value, Not Just a Law
Much of the rhetoric that emerged in the wake of the Eich incident showed a worrisome turn toward intolerance and puritanism among some supporters of gay equality—not in terms of formal legal sanction, to be sure, but in terms of abandonment of the core liberal values of debate and diversity.
Sustaining a liberal society demands a culture that welcomes robust debate, vigorous political advocacy, and a decent respect for differing opinions. People must be allowed to be wrong in order to continually test what is right. We should criticize opposing views, not punish or suppress them.
The freedom—not just legal but social—to express even very unpopular views is the engine that propelled the gay-rights movement from its birth against almost hopeless odds two generations ago. A culture of free speech created the social space for us to criticize and demolish the arguments against gay marriage and LGBT equality. For us and our advocates to turn against that culture now would be a betrayal of the movement’s deepest and most humane values.
Disagreement Should Not Be Punished
We prefer debate that is respectful, but we cannot enforce good manners. We must have the strength to accept that some people think misguidedly and harmfully about us. But we must also acknowledge that disagreement is not, itself, harm or hate.
As a viewpoint, opposition to gay marriage is not a punishable offense. It can be expressed hatefully, but it can also be expressed respectfully. We strongly believe that opposition to same-sex marriage is wrong, but the consequence of holding a wrong opinion should not be the loss of a job. Inflicting such consequences on others is sadly ironic in light of our movement’s hard-won victory over a social order in which LGBT people were fired, harassed, and socially marginalized for holding unorthodox opinions.
Enforcing Orthodoxy Hurts Everyone
LGBT Americans can and do demand to be treated fairly. But we also recognize that absolute agreement on any issue does not exist. Franklin Kameny, one of America’s earliest and greatest gay-rights proponents, lost his job in 1957 because he was gay. Just as some now celebrate Eich’s departure as simply reflecting market demands, the government justified the firing of gay people because of ‘the possible embarrassment to, and loss of public confidence in... the Federal civil service.’ Kameny devoted his life to fighting back. He was both tireless and confrontational in his advocacy of equality, but he never tried to silence or punish his adversaries.
Now that we are entering a new season in the debate that Frank Kameny helped to open, it is important to live up to the standard he set. Like him, we place our confidence in persuasion, not punishment. We believe it is the only truly secure path to equal rights.