The recent controversy over same-sex marriage in Arizona left me wondering what this all means as a gay (and married) man and as a “man of the cloth.” I am thankful that as a gay man I can live openly and that I live in a state where I can get married. But I am also a minister and I take my faith seriously. It isn’t something I practice within the walls of a church or at home, but it is a way of life, something that doesn’t always mesh with the larger society.
This past week saw the collision of those two ideals. While I am glad the proposed law in Arizona didn’t go through, I feel a major question remains unanswered.
Recently, I wrote a post on same-sex marriage and how those of us who support it should act towards those that oppose it. Can we be good winners to the losers?
The proposed laws in Kansas, Arizona and other states are the signs of a way of being that is passing. I as said in my previous post, those in favor of same sex marriage have won. But there is still something nagging me. How do we live with those who are the losers? How do we deal with those who say their opposition to gay marriage is based on religious teachings? Do we ignore them? Do we try to stamp them out? What is deemed as religious (even if we think it is weird) and what is not a religious practice?
The issue of a baker or florist refusing to serve a gay couple brings out conflicting emotions. I do think at some level there is the potential of bigotry behind that refusal. I also think that having laws where people can refuse service could cause chaos in our economy. But then I think about how someone who is a social conservative and faithful Christian would see this. There’s something about compelling someone to do something they don’t agree with because of their interpretation of the Bible that bothers me deeply. Those of us on our side tend to see this simply as case of bigotry. We think Bigots don’t deserve protection and they should shut up and do their job. After all their “religious objection” is just a smoke screen for their hate.
But the thing is, seeing homosexuality as a sin was considered the normative teaching in our society until recently. That doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong, but we have to take in account that tradition is not something that you can easily dispose of.
The tactic that I have shared at times is that it’s okay to believe what you do in private, but in public you have to set your beliefs aside. But upon thinking on this, I found this reasoning to be bothersome. We are basically saying that their faith is a hobby that can be pursued at other times, but not when we enter the public square. For the faithful, religious belief is not something that is private, but very public. It orders every part of one’s life. I think it would be difficult for someone who might think that same sex marriage to have to set their belief aside. In fact, it wouldn’t make sense. Why would they knowingly put themselves in a position to sin?
About three years ago, writer Jonathan Rauch wrote about the change that was heading our way on marriage. He called on the LGBT community and allies to not immediately try to challenge the other side when it came to issues like refusing service to a gay couple. To do so would be to make social conservatives fears come true and would basically play into their hands. He wrote:
…gay rights opponents have been quick, in fact quicker than our side, to understand that the dynamic is changing. They can see the moral foundations of their aversion to homosexuality crumbling beneath them. Their only hope is to turn the tables by claiming they, not gays, are the real victims of oppression. Seeing that we have moved the “moral deviant” shoe onto their foot, they are going to move the “civil rights violator” shoe onto ours.
So they have developed a narrative that goes like this:
Gay rights advocates don’t just want legal equality. They want to brand anyone who disagrees with them, on marriage or anything else, as the equivalent of a modern-day segregationist. If you think homosexuality is immoral or changeable, they want to send you to be reeducated, take away your license to practice counseling, or kick your evangelical student group off campus. If you object to facilitating same-sex weddings or placing adoptees with same-sex couples, they’ll slap you with a fine for discrimination, take away your nonprofit status, or force you to choose between your job and your conscience. If you so much as disagree with them, they call you a bigot and a hater.
They won’t stop until they stigmatize your core religious teachings as bigoted, ban your religious practices as discriminatory, and drive millions of religious Americans right out of the public square. But their target is broader than just religion. Their policy is one of zero tolerance for those who disagree with them, and they will use the law to enforce it.
At bottom, they are not interested in sharing the country. They want to wipe us out.
He continues writing what should be the response of same-sex marriage supporters:
In a messy world where rights often collide, we can’t avoid arguing about where legitimate dissent ends and intolerable discrimination begins. What we can do is avoid a trap the other side has set for us. Incidents of rage against “haters,” verbal abuse of opponents, boycotts of small-business owners, absolutist enforcement of antidiscrimination laws: Those and other “zero-tolerance” tactics play into the “homosexual bullies” narrative, which is why our adversaries publicize them so energetically.
The other side, in short, is counting on us to hand them the victimhood weapon. Our task is to deny it to them.
As a society, we are going to have to find someone to accomodate those who disagree on same sex marriage. Driving them from the public square could be detrimental to American society in the long run.
That said, I don’t think we can solve this issue solely through the legislature or the courts. They will need to have some place there, but in reality what needs to happen is that people refrain from going nuclear. If a baker refuses to make a cake for a lesbian couple, the next step should not be sue the baker. Instead, it should be to say thank you to the baker and then proceed to tell family and friends to not shop there. Let the marketplace reward or punish business owners based on their views. As Andrew Sullivan has note recently, no self respecting gay person wants a person who doesn’t want to take part in a wedding making their cake or handling flowers:
I would never want to coerce any fundamentalist to provide services for my wedding – or anything else for that matter – if it made them in any way uncomfortable. The idea of suing these businesses to force them to provide services they are clearly uncomfortable providing is anathema to me. I think it should be repellent to the gay rights movement as well.
The truth is: we’re winning this argument. We’ve made the compelling moral case that gay citizens should be treated no differently by their government than straight citizens. And the world has shifted dramatically in our direction. Inevitably, many fundamentalist Christians and Orthodox Jews and many Muslims feel threatened and bewildered by such change and feel that it inchoately affects their religious convictions. I think they’re mistaken – but we’re not talking logic here. We’re talking religious conviction. My view is that in a free and live-and-let-live society, we should give them space. As long as our government is not discriminating against us, we should be tolerant of prejudice as long as it does not truly hurt us. And finding another florist may be a bother, and even upsetting, as one reader expressed so well. But we can surely handle it. And should.
Leave the fundamentalists and bigots alone. In any marketplace in a diverse society, they will suffer economically by refusing and alienating some customers, their families and their friends. By all means stop patronizing them in both senses of the word. Let them embrace discrimination and lose revenue. Let us let them be in the name of their freedom – and ours’.
The point of my rambling is that those of us in favor of same sex marriage and those opposed have to find a way to tolerate each other. Those who have a traditional understanding of sexuality have to understand that being gay is becoming more and more normative. LGBT folk and their allies have to understand that the other side isn’t going away anytime soon and in many cases they are compelled to follow what they interpret to be from God (even if we think this is pure hogwash). We have to learn to coexist, because this tit for tat war of stigmatizing is futile and for those of us who are Christian not very Christ-like. We have to learn to love the other even if we think they are wrong.
I want to end with the words of fellow pastor Trevor Lee who has this to say about tolerance:
Tolerance now means completely accepting viewpoints that culture, and especially the media and TV/movie industry deem correct. Many of these viewpoints are against traditional moral stances. So those who hold to the “outdated” views are intolerant. Yet this has almost nothing to do with tolerance. In fact, very often those who rail against those “intolerant people” are being intolerant in the process. Here’s what it comes down to…
You do not tolerate someone or something you agree with.
The dictionary defines tolerance as “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from [emphasis mine] one’s own.” So the only people and opinions we can logically tolerate are those we disagree with. If we change our opinions and beliefs we would now be tolerant by continuing to respect and treat with dignity those we used to agree with. I am for tolerance (really I’m more for love than tolerance, but we’ll get to that in a minute), but this is teetering on the edge of being a useless word in our culture.
I pray for more tolerance in our society. On all sides.