Surrender Douthat!

My apologies upfront: that was simply an irresistible headline. On Sunday, Ross complained that conservatives are not being allowed to negotiate the terms of their surrender on marriage equality:

We are not really having an argument about same-sex marriage anymore, and on the evidence of Arizona, we’re not having a negotiation. Instead, all that’s left is the timing of the final victory — and for the defeated to find out what settlement the victors will impose.

Michael Potemra seconds:

Contrary to the lessons being taught by our toxic culture, not every momentary advantage needs to be followed up with the crushing and humiliation of one’s enemies. So the question should not be, “Can we succeed in getting society to treat those who disagree with us as moral lepers?” but “Is it right to do so?” Churchill famously started one of his books with a credo that included the phrase “In Victory: Magnanimity.” Magnanimity is definitely not a virtue that today’s culture prizes — but this is a moment that calls for it.

Rod’s summation:

American Christians are about to learn what it means to live in a country where being a faithful Christian is going to exact significant costs. It may not be persecution, but it’s still going to hurt, and in ways most Christians scarcely understand. Maybe this will be good for us. Maybe. We’ll see.

It seems to me there is an important distinction here. If the gay rights movement seeks to impose gay equality on religious groups by lawsuit, or if it seeks to remove tax exempt status for institutions that refuse to include gays for theological reasons, then I agree that such attempts to weddingcakedavidmcnewgetty.jpghumiliate and coerce opponents should be resisted tooth and nail. Such spiking of the ball is a repugnant and ill-advised over-reach, and, to my mind, a betrayal of the soul of the movement. We should be about the expansion of freedom for everyone, not its constriction. We should be in favor of persuasion, not coercion. The question of allowing any individual or business to discriminate against gay people and gay couples is, however, a much trickier area. In any public accommodations, I think it’s counter-productive and morally disturbing. But my own strong preference is for as much live-and-let-live as possible: i.e. not filing lawsuits against anti-gay businesses but supporting pro-gay ones in the marketplace.

Still, championing the ability to fire gay people on religious grounds does not seem to me to be a winning argument for those opposing marriage equality. A majority of even Republicans favor laws banning workplace discrimination against gays, and the national majority is immense: around 68 percent for and only 21 percent against. In the same poll, 80 percent of Americans thought this was already the law! That’s a hill I would not aim to die on, if I were the Christianist right.

But what Ross and Michael and Rod are really concerned about, it seems to me, is the general culture of growing intolerance of religious views on homosexuality, and the potential marginalization – even stigmatization – of traditional Christians.

I sure hope that doesn’t happen, but it’s not something a free society should try to control by law. There is a big difference between legal coercion and cultural isolation. The former should be anathema – whether that coercion is aimed at gays or at fundamentalist Christians. The latter? It’s the price of freedom. The way to counter it is not, in my view, complaints about being victims (this was my own advice to the gay rights movement a couple of decades ago, for what it’s worth). The way to counter it is to 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.

Rod wonders if being the counter-culture “will be good for us.” In my view, it really could be. Since Constantine, Christianity’s great temptation has been to doubt the power of its truths and to seek to impose them by force. And its greatest promise has been when it truly has been the counter-culture – in the time of Jesus and the decades after, or, say, in the subversive appeal of Saint Francis’ radical vision. Why see this era as one of Benedictine retreat rather than of Franciscan evangelism? Why so dour when you can still be the counter-cultural salt of the earth?

(Photo from Getty)