In the gay marriage debate, stop playing the hate card
In the debates over gay marriage, "hate" is the ultimate conversation-stopper.
Some stories from recent months: A religion instructor at a midwestern state university explains in an e-mail to students the rational basis for Catholic teaching on homosexuality. He is denounced by a student for "hate speech" and is dismissed from his position. (He is later reinstated - for now.) At another midwestern state university, a department chairman demurs from a student organizer's request that his department promote an upcoming "LGBTQ" film festival on campus; he is denounced to his university's chancellor, who indicates that his e-mail to the student warrants inquiry by a "Hate and Bias Incident Response Team."
On the west coast, a state law school moves to marginalize a Christian student group that requires its members to pledge they will conform to orthodox Christian doctrines on sexual morality. In the history of the school, no student group has ever been denied campus recognition. But this one is, and the U.S. Supreme Court lets the school get away with it.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a once-respected civil rights organization, publishes a "report" identifying a dozen or so "anti-gay hate groups," some for no apparent reason other than their vocal opposition to same-sex marriage. Other marriage advocacy groups are put on a watch list.
On a left-wing Web site, a petition drive succeeds in pressuring Apple to drop an "app" from its iTunes store for the Manhattan Declaration, an ecumenical Christian statement whose nearly half-million signers are united in defense of the right to life, the tradition of conjugal marriage between man and woman, and the principles of religious liberty. The offense? The app is a "hate fest." Fewer than 8,000 people petition for the app to go; more than five times as many petition Apple for its reinstatement, so far to no avail.
Finally, on "$#*! My Dad Says," a CBS sitcom watched by more than 10 million weekly viewers, an entire half-hour episode is devoted to a depiction of the disapproval of homosexuality as bigotry, a form of unreasoning intolerance that clings to the past with a coarse and mean-spirited judgmentalism. And this on a show whose title character is famously irascible and politically incorrect, but who in this instance turns out to be fashionably cuddly and up-to-date.
What's going on here? Clearly a determined effort is afoot, in cultural bastions controlled by the left, to anathematize traditional views of sexual morality, particularly opposition to same-sex marriage, as the expression of "hate" that cannot be tolerated in a decent civil society. The argument over same-sex marriage must be brought to an end, and the debate considered settled. Defenders of traditional marriage must be likened to racists, as purveyors of irrational fear and loathing. Opposition to same-sex marriage must be treated just like support for now long-gone anti-miscegenation laws.
This strategy is the counsel of desperation. In 30 states, the people have protected traditional marriage by constitutional amendment: In no state where the question has been put directly to voters has same-sex marriage been adopted by democratic majorities. But the advocates of a revolution in the law of marriage see an opportunity in Perry v. Schwarzenegger , currently pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. In his district court ruling in the case in August, Judge Vaughn Walker held that California's Proposition 8 enacted, "without reason, a private moral view" about the nature of marriage that cannot properly be embodied in public policy. Prop 8's opponents are hoping for similar reasoning from the appeals court and, ultimately, from the Supreme Court.
The SPLC's report on "hate groups" gives the game away. It notes that no group is listed merely for "viewing homosexuality as unbiblical." But when describing standard expressions of Christian teaching, that we must love the sinner while hating the sin, the SPLC treats them as "kinder, gentler language" that only covers up unreasoning hatred for gay people. Christians are free to hold their "biblical" views, you see, but we know that opposition to gay marriage cannot have any basis in reason. Although protected by the Constitution, these religious views must be sequestered from the public square, where reason, as distinguished from faith, must prevail.
Marginalize, privatize, anathematize: These are the successive goals of gay-marriage advocates when it comes to their opponents.
First, ignore the arguments of traditional marriage's defenders, that marriage has always existed in order to bring men and women together so that children will have mothers and fathers, and that same-sex marriage is not an expansion but a dismantling of the institution. Instead, assert that no rational arguments along these lines even exist and so no refutation is necessary, and insinuate that those who merely want to defend marriage are "anti-gay thugs" or "theocrats" or "Taliban," as some critics have said.
Second, drive the wedge between faith and reason, chasing traditional religious arguments on marriage and morality underground, as private forms of irrationality.
Finally, decree the victory of the new public morality - here the judges have their role in the liberal strategy - and read the opponents of the new dispensation out of polite society, as the crazed bigots of our day.
American democracy doesn't need civility enforcers, nor must it become a public square with signs reading "no labels allowed." Robust debate is necessarily passionate debate, especially on a question like marriage. But the charge of "hate" is not a contribution to argument; it's the recourse of people who would rather not have an argument at all.
That is no way to conduct public business on momentous questions in a free democracy. "Hate" cannot be permitted to be the conversation stopper in the same-sex marriage debate. The American people, a tolerant bunch who have acted to protect marriage in three-fifths of the states, just aren't buying it. And they still won't buy it even if the judges do.
Matthew J. Franck is Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.