I argued that opponents of marriage equality should stop playing the victim and instead of focusing on gays “make a positive argument about the superior model of a monogamous, procreative, heterosexual marital bond”:
There is enormous beauty and depth to the Catholic argument for procreative matrimony – an account of sex and gender and human flourishing that contains real wisdom. I think that a church that was able to make that positive case – rather than what is too often a merely negative argument about keeping gays out, or the divorced in limbo – would and should feel liberated by its counter-cultural message.
Andrew asks us to make a “positive case,” but I submit to him that this is impossible now. The climate that now exists, and that will only grow in intensity, is one in which any dissent from the pro-gay consensus, no matter how nuanced or irenically stated, amounts to “hate” that cannot be tolerated. … If Andrew believes that Christians should tell positive stories, then the best thing he can do for us dissenters, now that he is on the verge of victory (and I can’t think of a single figure who has done more than he has to achieve victory), is to explain to his side what he perfectly well knows from being friends with Ross and me: that not every Christian who opposes same-sex marriage is a hater, and it does none of us any good to pretend that they are.
Well, I have done so on many occasions, did so in my books from the 1990s onward, and will continue to do so. I’ve spent a large part of my career angering gays by insisting that a crude “hater!” response to arguments about homosexuality is both deeply flawed and counter-productive. That was the whole point of Virtually Normal – and why it provoked such ferocious hostility from the left. Here’s an essay I wrote for the NYT attacking the whole concept of “hate” as a legal or political phenomenon. My record against “hate-crimes” is also pretty clear. I’ve aired vital reporting that complicates the iconic case of alleged anti-gay hate, in the Matthew Shepard case. Rod knows all this. He must also know that maintaining my loyalty to the Catholic church has not made my life easier in the gay community these past few decades. Why, given some social ostracism in the gay world for being a believing Christian, would I have clung on to a church that I believe is motivated by “hate”? Human beings – and hostility or opposition to gay civil rights – are much more complicated than that absurdly reductionist label. I am not Mark Joseph Stern.
But it remains the case that hatred and fear of gay people is deep and real and alive among many of Rod’s allies on the Christianist right. Not all, by any means. But it would be crazy not to acknowledge this. Rod wants to divide the anti-gay-rights coalition into a tiny fringe of Westboro Church loons and otherwise reasonable, nice Christians who oppose marriage equality for principled reasons. But this is a whitewash. The way gay people have been denigrated, derided, trivialized and demonized by mainstream figures in the Christianist right is appalling. The Christianist campaign to persecute gay people in Africa is horrifying. The callousness and double standards of Pope Benedict XVI – the man who declared gay people inherently sinful in our nature – cannot be denied.
And the only way to distinguish yourself from these hateful factions is to make a positive case for your position. That’s always possible. From the very beginnings of our faith, Christians have made such a positive case, even as they were being thrown to the lions. And Rod won’t do it because someone might say something mean at the office! How delicate and sensitive these Christianists can be.
Sure, insisting that you oppose my right to marry may lead at times to others viewing you as inhumane or bigoted or cruel. But that’s the price of entering the public square. You think I was given a hero’s welcome among conservatives when I first made the positive case for gay marriage? Please. It was open season from right and left.
And if Rod wants to know what persecution is like, imagine showing up to work and being fired simply for being a Christian. Or serving your country, risking life and limb, and then being told you are dismissed, denied any benefits, and thrown out on the street. Much of this has happened and still happens to gay people across the country, in ways no Christian qua Christian rarely faces and could barely conceive of. In Arizona, where Rod feels Christians are under siege, gays can be fired at will just for being themselves, and have no right to marry. When Rod receives that treatment, his self-pity may have some merit. But his obliviousness to the suffering of others is more than a blind spot.
I imagine, however, that he is dimly aware that his version of human flourishing – heterosexual sex only within marriage that is open to procreation – may not win the day in the public debate. Indeed, all the many arguments for such a view of how human beings can reach our fullest potential have tended to lose and lose badly in the last half-century in the free West. The equality of women, the emergence of gays, the fact of widespread contraception, the impact of no-fault divorce … all these prove that Rod’s argument is not succeeding, even when it had the legacy of centuries behind it. Even in the delicate pronouncements of Pope Francis, you can feel the equivocation. It is as if the prohibition against gay people simply cannot survive the scrutiny of reason or the Christian standard of mercy. And this is true for Catholics as much as any other group (just look at the polls of Catholics on marriage equality). And I think this realization that the argument has been lost is what motivates the panic – and leads to the current wave of self-pity.
[U]sing the “persecution” label too promiscuously, I think, carries three risks beyond intellectual inaccuracy. First, as Dreher sort of concedes, it doesn’t do enough to acknowledge the vast gulf separating the situation of Western Christians and the incredible heroism of our co-believers overseas, who face eliminative violence on an increasingly-dramatic scale. Second, as I tried to suggest in the column, it doesn’t do enough to acknowledge the gulf separating the situation of Western Christians and the situation of gays and lesbians, past and present, facing persecutionat the hands of religiously-motivated actors. And finally, it doesn’t actually prepare conservative believers for a future as a (hopefully creative) religious minority, because it conditions them/us to constantly expect some kind of grand tribulation that probably won’t actually emerge.
Readers’ thoughts on the post here.