Isaac Chotiner unwittingly proves Christina Odone right when she wonders in a recent New Statesman piece if there is less and less tolerance for religious individuals who oppose gay marriage.
In the piece Odone recounts how difficult it was to put together a conference on traditional marriage:
I couldn’t believe it. I was trying to discuss traditional marriage—and the state was trying to stop me.
Incredible, in a 21st-century European country, but true. I was invited to speak at a conference on marriage last summer, to be held at the Law Society in London. The government had just launched a public consultation on changing the law to allow same-sex marriage. The conference was a chance for supporters of traditional marriage to contribute to the debate. The participants included a retired philosophy professor, a representative of the Catholic archdiocese of Westminster, the chairman of the Tory party’s oldest pressure group, the Bow Group, Phillip Blond (another Tory adviser) and spokesmen for various Christian organisations. The title, “One Man. One Woman. Making the Case for Marriage for the Good of Society”, could hardly have sounded more sober. I accepted without a second thought.
A few days before the conference, someone from Christian Concern, the group which had organised the event, rang me in a panic: the Law Society had refused to let us meet on their premises. The theme was “contrary to our diversity policy”, the society explained in an email to the organisers, “espousing as it does an ethos which is opposed to same-sex marriage”. In other words, the Law Society regarded support for heterosexual union, still the only legal form of marriage in Britain, as discriminatory.
Hurriedly, another venue was found, the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in the heart of London. This publicly owned modern building is named after the supreme governor of the Established Church, and is situated across the street from Westminster Abbey, for nearly a millennium the symbol of Christian Britain. Who could hope for a better venue, in short, to discuss what the churches still regard as a sacramental union?
But with only 24 hours to go before the conference, managers at the QEII centre told Christian Concern that the subject it planned to discuss was “inappropriate”. The booking was cancelled. When challenged, the QEII centre’s chief executive, Ernest Vincent, cited its diversity policy as reason for the cancellation. A journalist asked for a copy of the diversity policy. The centre refused to provide it.
By the time I took part in the event, (which had been moved to the basement of a hotel in central London), I felt my rights as a taxpayer, citizen and Christian had been trampled. I began to wonder if I had been the unlucky victim of an isolated incident or was in fact encountering a wider problem. I started to research the issue.
Chotiner takes a few shots at a couple of Odone’s rather poorly chosen phrases and exaggerations. I think he’s right that Odone goes overboard in her description of the intolerance that Christians, Jews and Muslims face on the issue of gay marriage, but it is hardly the “incoherent…rant” that Chotiner claims it is.
In fact, he actually proves Odone’s point by suggesting that people should not be allowed to express their disagreement with gay marriage because being against gay marriage is no different than racism:
Odone thinks that people should be allowed to practice their religious beliefs, even if those beliefs include discrimination. (She notes the case of a couple in the United Kingdom who had to close their bed and breakfast because they wouldn’t allow a gay couple to spend the night.) I keep waiting for someone like Odone to answer the question of whether one should be allowed to discriminate against, say, a black couple if one claims it is a matter of faith. But no luck.
Yes, well, is homosexuality akin to race? That’s the million dollar question. Even if sexual desire for a person of the same sex where found to be genetically determined, does that automatically make it an aspect of identity? If so, why? And why just that particular desire and not others? We are the first culture in human history to view sexual orientation as an aspect of identity; and I, for one, think that our modern distinction between gender and sex will go down as one of the most absurdly fantastical human inventions proffered as fact.
But for Chotiner, it seems, it is a fact. Homosexuality is no different from race and any one who thinks it is immoral is a bigot.
This is the practical problem of conflating sexuality and identity. It transforms what should be an issue of tolerance into an issue of acceptance. I can tolerate a person’s choices, but when it comes to identity, I have to either accept or reject it.
And this means that, as the argument is currently constructed, there will necessarily be a winner and a loser. Either Christians and other religious persons will be forced by law to “accept” an “identity” they believe to be immoral, or homosexuality will again be viewed as an incurable mental illness or disease. Not the best outcome in either case, I’d say.