Baking The Cake, Keeping The Peace
Andrew Sullivan and I argue a lot, but truth is, if he were in charge of implementing gay marriage laws, I wouldn’t be all that worried about religious liberty. From his most recent column:
Which is why I think it was a prudential mistake to sue the baker. Live and let live would have been a far better response. The baker’s religious convictions are not trivial or obviously in bad faith, which means to say he is not just suddenly citing them solely when it comes to catering to gays. His fundamentalism makes him refuse to make even Halloween cakes, for Pete’s sake. More to the point, he has said he would provide any form of custom-designed cakes for gay couples — a birthday cake, for example — except for one designed for a specific celebration that he has religious objections to. And those religious convictions cannot be dismissed as arbitrary (even if you find them absurd). Opposition to same-sex marriage has been an uncontested pillar of every major world religion for aeons.
And so, if there are alternative solutions, like finding another baker, why force the point? Why take up arms to coerce someone when you can easily let him be — and still celebrate your wedding? That is particularly the case when much of the argument for marriage equality was that it would not force anyone outside that marriage to approve or disapprove of it. One reason we won that debate is because many straight people simply said to themselves, “How does someone else’s marriage affect me?” and decided on those grounds to support or acquiesce to such a deep social change. It seems grotesquely disingenuous now for the marriage-equality movement to bait and switch on that core “live and let live” argument. And it seems deeply insensitive and intolerant to force the clear losers in a culture war into not just defeat but personal humiliation.
Yes, that’s humane. But for so many gay activists and their allies, personally humiliating conservative Christians and other dissenters is the point. More:
It always worries me when gays advocate taking freedom away from other people. It worries me as a matter of principle. But it also unsettles me because some gay activists do not seem to realize that the position they’re taking is particularly dangerous for a tiny and historically despised minority. The blithe unconcern for the First Amendment in the war on “hate speech,” for example, ignores the fact that, for centuries, the First Amendment was the only defense the gay minority ever had — and now, with the first taste of power, we are restricting the rights of others in this respect? Ugh. Endorse the state’s right to coerce speech or conscience and you have ceded a principle that can so easily come back to haunt you. The freedom of any baker to express himself is, in this respect, indistinguishable from that of any gay person to do so — a truth that our current tribalism blinds so many to. I hope, in other words, that the baker prevails — but that the Supreme Court decision doesn’t turn on religious so much as artistic freedom.
And read Ross Douthat’s Sunday column about how issues like the wedding cake are canaries in the coal mine for our society. Douthat, who supports the baker, says he’s not going to attempt a constitutional argument on the baker’s behalf, but rather “a political argument for why our country would be better off if he were left alone to bake his cakes.” Excerpts:
Meanwhile because we are so distant from our rivals, we cannot recognize that they share the same fears about what will happen if power is in our hands — or else we dismiss those fears as the pleadings of a wicked claque whose destruction is entirely merited.
As a conservative Catholic who works in a liberal milieu, I watched this happen after Obergefell v. Hodges. For its opponents, the same-sex marriage ruling was less frightening for what it did than for what they feared might follow: not just legal same-sex nuptials, but a sweeping legal campaign against the sexual revolution’s dissidents, in which conservative believers would be prodded out of various occupations, while their schools and hospitals and charities would be fined and taxes and regulated and de-accredited to death.
And liberals who felt ascendant in the Obama years simply couldn’t accept this fear as something to be managed and assuaged; to them, it was either ridiculous alarmism or a cloak for bigotry. So while the Obama White House was requiring nuns to pay for abortifacients and the A.C.L.U. was suing Catholic hospitals for not performing sterilizations and state bureaucrats were trying to punish a handful of Christians in the wedding industry, what Rod Dreher called “the law of merited impossibility” dominated the liberal mind: Religious conservatives were worrying about attacks on their institutions that would never arrive, and when the attacks did arrive they obviously deserved it.
I am grateful to Ross Douthat for putting the Law of Merited Impossibility (“It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it”) into the national conversation. He’s exactly right, of course. You still hear and read liberals saying that Christian claims of oppression are nonsense. They aren’t nonsense to Jack Phillips and Baronnelle Stutzman. They aren’t nonsense to the Little Sisters of the Poor. They aren’t nonsense to Grove City College. And on and on.
This, Douthat correctly points out, is why a lot of Christians voted for Donald Trump.
But Douthat also chides conservatives for not understanding, or attempting to understand, how and why Trump and what he stands for strikes fear into the hearts of blacks, Hispanics, Muslims and others.
This kind of cycle of incomprehension and aggression tends to destroy republics if it isn’t broken, if leaders can’t compromise ideological principles to maintain civic peace, if partisans can’t imagine how the world looks in communities vastly different from their own.
The message of Douthat’s (excellent) column is one that urges enlightened self-interest: Be tolerant: the country you save will be your own.
I remember back in the Stone Age, when the Lawrence vs. Texas case came before the Supreme Court, wishing that the Texas sodomy law (and all sodomy laws) would be overturned. It’s not that I was morally indifferent to sodomy, but that those laws, and their enforcement, seemed pointlessly cruel to gay people. To be sure, I think Justice Scalia’s dissent was correct, but as Scalia’s logic made clear in that dissent, one can be against sodomy laws without believing that there exists a constitutional right to it. Anyway, a basic principle of keeping social peace in any society, especially a diverse one, is affirming that not everything a majority finds immoral ought to be illegal. You may drive by a gay bar or an Evangelical megachurch and grumble inwardly about what happens inside them, but despite what puritanical busybodies of the left and the right tell us, it is often, though not always, possible to live and let live.
And it’s necessary.
This is a shrewd analysis of Douthat’s column — and of our condition:
I read it as an appeal to tolerance — the great civic virtue of every multi-ethnic empire in history. But not an easy one to resurrect when all sides view it as disarmament.
— Will Wilson ? (@WAWilsonIV) December 9, 2017
Finally, take a look at this: