All that’s left to decide is the terms of surrender that will be dictated to conservatives, says Ross Douthat. He says there were two scenarios that might have played out. In the first, after same-sex marriage was achieved, the culture would have settled down, and gays would have gone about their business getting married and divorced like everybody else, and things would have returned to normal. In the second, gay partisans and their supporters would have put constant pressure on any holdouts or pockets of resistance, attempting to crush any opposition. Excerpt:
In the past, this constant-pressure scenario has seemed the less-likely one, since Americans are better at agreeing to disagree than the culture war would suggest. But it feels a little bit more likely after last week’s “debate” in Arizona, over a bill that was designed to clarify whether existing religious freedom protections can be invoked by defendants like the florist or the photographer.
If you don’t recognize my description of the bill, then you probably followed the press coverage, which was mendacious and hysterical — evincing no familiarity with the legal issues, and endlessly parroting the line that the bill would institute “Jim Crow” for gays. (Never mind that in Arizona it’s currently legal to discriminate based on sexual orientation — and mass discrimination isn’t exactly breaking out.) Allegedly sensible centrists compared the bill’s supporters to segregationist politicians, liberals invoked the Bob Jones precedent to dismiss religious-liberty concerns, and Republican politicians behaved as though the law had been written by David Duke.
What makes this response particularly instructive is that such bills have been seen, in the past, as a way for religious conservatives to negotiate surrender — to accept same-sex marriage’s inevitability while carving out protections for dissent. But now, apparently, the official line is that you bigots don’t get to negotiate anymore.
Of course. We will hear how all of this would have been different if only SSM opponents had done this, that, or the other thing in the past. Don’t believe it. Had the country embraced civil unions in 2004, for example, gay activists would have done exactly what they did in California, which did embrace civil unions: sue for full marriage recognition. This was always how it was going to end. I’ve been saying for at least five years that we conservatives had better focus on trying to carve out some religious liberty protections for ourselves, but that was a futile task too, amid the hysteria of this cultural climate. Now that the goal of legal same-sex marriage from coast to coast is clearly in sight, the fight will turn to demonizing any remaining resistance from religious dissenters, who must not be allowed any quarter. You can bet on it. Douthat concludes:
Christians had plenty of opportunities — thousands of years’ worth — to treat gay people with real charity, and far too often chose intolerance. (And still do, in many instances and places.) So being marginalized, being sued, losing tax-exempt status — this will be uncomfortable, but we should keep perspective and remember our sins, and nobody should call it persecution.
I disagree. It is certainly true that Christian conservatives should not rush to embrace the “persecution” label, which rightly applies to what is happening to Christians in Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere. However, I think Douthat is being too quick to buy into the narrative of our opponents here — a narrative one often hears from pro-SSM readers of this blog: that unless you Christians are being rounded up, beaten, or killed, it’s not persecution, so quit complaining. The same rhetorical strategy could be used against gays, of course, and it would also be unfair, because many gay people have certainly been persecuted. If only pogroms count as persecution, then very few non-black Americans in our time have ever been “persecuted.”
Anyway, if it comes to pass in the next few years that religious institutions and churches begin to lose their tax-exempt status because they do not accept the status quo on homosexuality, many of these churches and institutions will have to close, or radically scale back their operations. They operate on such a close margin as it stands now. Do you think for one minute that activists will allow any breathing room to institutions that refuse to bend to their will? Of course not. In short order, Christians in America will be forced to decide how much their institutions mean to them, and how deep in their pockets they are willing to dig to keep them going.
When Christians cannot enter into certain professions because they cannot in good conscience sign statements required by licensing guilds, that will feel like persecution. When Christians are publicly vilified, and their children are taught that holding firm to their faith makes them social pariahs, that will feel like persecution. And Christians who hold to the traditions of our faith, and refuse to sell out to the Zeitgeist, will be instructed that we deserve everything coming our way — this, even though we were all told, and told, and told, that all the other side was seeking was fairness.
The Law Of Merited Impossibility: It won’t happen, and when it does, you people will deserve it.
I think it is impossible to overestimate the power of the media in bringing about what is and what is to come. I think it is also impossible to overstate the hostility within media circles to Christianity on this issue. Over the years, I’ve often found myself telling fellow conservatives that their idea of media bias and what the media are like is exaggerated. On this one, though, it’s as bad or worse than they imagine. Mollie Hemingway writes about media coverage of the Arizona law. Excerpt:
There are countless more examples (from the Washington Post to local papers) of how poorly reporters have handled this topic and how quickly they’ve joined the mob of activism against civil or rational discourse.
Religious liberty is a deeply radical concept. It was at this country’s founding and it hasn’t become less so. Preserving it has always been a full-time battle. But it’s important, because religion is at the core of people’s identity. A government that tramples religious liberty is not a government that protects economic freedom. It’s certainly not a government that protects conscience rights. A government that tramples religious liberty does not have expansive press freedoms. Can you think of one country with a narrow view of religious liberty but an expansive view of economic freedom, freedom of association, press freedoms or free speech rights? One?
A media less hostile to religious liberty would think less about scoring cheap political points, creating uncivil political climates and disparaging institutions that help humans flourish. A media with a higher regard for truth would, it turns out, have a higher regard for religious liberty.
Sadly, we seem to have left the world of reason and tolerance. Could our media climate demonstrate that any better? And what lies ahead, if left uncorrected, is illogical and tyrannical. Freedom of religion was the central principle in the moral case of our country. Once that’s gone, how long can the Republic stand? Does anyone even care?
When you have a prominent ESPN personality likening the Arizona bill to Nazi Germany’s making Jews wear yellow stars, and this is considered reasonable mainstream discourse, I think the answer, Mrs. Hemingway, is no, not in our media class. Watch Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon discuss this. Hysterics, both of them:
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.