I’ll read anything Jonathan Rauch writes. I can’t think of a more fair-minded advocate for gay rights. He stands up for what he believes in, but he doesn’t hate his opponents — and he can distinguish between people who disagree with him and outright haters. Can’t tell you how much I appreciate that.
His essay from the December issue of The Advocate is a must-read. [UPDATE: December 2010 -- sorry, a friend e-mailed the link last night, identifying it as "from the December issue" -- RD] Rauch argues that gays have won the war for the hearts and minds of the American people. They don’t have what they seek yet, but by now it’s just a matter of time. The polls don’t lie. The generational shift on gay rights is profound. (Though I’m on the other side of the marriage issue, I happen to think his analysis is accurate.) Because of that fact, he says, the gay rights movement is at a crossroads:
[W]e—gay Americans and our straight allies—have won the central argument for gay rights. As a result, we must change. Much of what the gay rights movement has taken for granted until now, and much that has worked for us in the past, is now wrong and will hurt us. The turn we now need to execute will be the hardest maneuver the movement has ever had to make, because it will require us to deliberately leave room for homophobia in American society. We need to allow some discrimination and relinquish the “zero tolerance” mind-set. Paradoxical but true: We need to give our opponents the time and space they need to let us win.
What does he mean by that? I can’t do justice to his argument in a blog post, so I urge you to read the whole thing. Below the fold, a couple of key excerpts, and some commentary by me:
Rauch says that gay rights opponents today have developed a narrative that sounds like this (the italics are his):
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.
The Gay Brownshirts Thesis. I credit Rauch for his insight. I also think this is exactly true — not only true in the sense that that’s what my side thinks, but true in that it’s an accurate description of reality. Rauch continues:
A lot of gay people have trouble taking this narrative seriously, partly because in its more extreme forms it sounds so paranoid and nutty—as when Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, recently said, “If this case [overruling California’s ban on gay marriage] stands, we’ll have gone, in one generation, from 1962, when the Bible was banned in public schools, to religious beliefs being banned in America.” It would be a false comfort, though, to suppose that the gays-as-oppressors narrative can’t and won’t take root among moderates and thoughtful, mainstream conservatives—people like Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner, former Bush administration officials, who write, “If [gay] marriage is deemed to be a civil right—and if opponents are therefore deemed to be the equivalent of modern-day segregationists—churches may eventually be compelled to act in a way that complies with the spirit and letter of ‘anti-discrimination’ law rather than with orthodox Christian teaching.” Stated that way, the claim happens to be true. [Emphasis mine -- RD] Nor must we suppose it is a mere stratagem, cooked up to scare open donors’ pocketbooks. It is a product of a genuine and widespread fear of marginalization and stigmatization on the cultural right—and it is all the more biting as a result.
The other side, in short, is counting on us to hand them the victimhood weapon. Our task is to deny it to them.Two important strategic changes would go a long way toward doing that. First, accept legal exceptions that let religious organizations discriminate against gays whenever their doing so imposes a cost we can live with. Second, dial back the accusations of “bigot” and “hater.”In the gay community, taking any kind of nonabsolutist attitude toward discrimination is controversial, to say the least—largely because we carry in our heads the paradigm of racial discrimination. In today’s America, though, the racial model is overkill for gays. Injustice persists, unquestionably, but the opposition is dying on its feet and discrimination is in decline. And, unlike white supremacism, disapproval of homosexuality is still intrinsic to orthodox doctrines of all three major religions. [Emphasis mine -- RD] That will change and is already changing (younger evangelicals are much more accepting of same-sex relations than are their parents), but for now it is a fact we must live with.Before we shrug and reply, “So what if it’s religious? It’s still bigotry, it’s still intolerable,” we need to remember that religious liberty is America’s founding principle. It is embedded in the country’s DNA, not to mention in the First Amendment. If we pick a fight with it or, worse, let ourselves be maneuvered into a fight with it, our task will become vastly harder.