Home/Rod Dreher/Gay Rights/Religious Liberty Train Crash

Gay Rights/Religious Liberty Train Crash

Terry Mattingly’s most recent column speaks to an issue that few in the mainstream media want to talk about, and that many religious conservatives don’t even see coming. Excerpts:

Gay-rights advocates know the formula and so do their opponents: If gay marriage becomes a civil right, then religious believers who dare to defend ancient doctrines on marriage will become de facto segregationists and suffer the legal consequences.

The problem for the left is that this happens to be true.

“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,” argued gay commentator Jonathan Rauch, writing in The Advocate.

“If we pick a fight with it or, worse, let ourselves be maneuvered into a fight with it, our task will become vastly harder. … Even if you don’t happen to believe, as I do, that religious liberty is, like gay equality, a basic human right, the pragmatic case for religious accommodations is clear: Being seen as a threat to religious freedom is not in our interest.”

Rauch is right, but he’s not as right today as he was in 2010, when he wrote that piece for The Advocate. By which I mean that I don’t think it’s nearly as much of a liability to gay rights supporters to be seen as religious liberty opponents as it once was. That’s in part because the mainstream media have not explored the inherent clash between gay rights and religious liberty, and conservatives opposed to gay marriage have for some reason chosen not to make much of an issue of it. More from TMatt’s column:

Here is the parallel: In gay-marriage debates, almost everyone concedes that clergy must not be required to perform same-sex rites that violate their consciences.

The question is whether legislatures and courts will extend protection to religious hospitals, homeless shelters, summer camps, day-care centers, counseling facilities, adoption agencies and similar public ministries. What about religious colleges that rent married-student apartments or seek accreditation for their degrees in education, counseling or social work? What about the religious-liberty rights of individuals who work as florists, wedding photographers, wedding-cake bakers, counselors who do pre- or post-marital counseling and other similar forms of business?

He goes on to quote Douglas Laycock, a law professor and a gay marriage supporter, who contended in a 2009 letter that it is not in the interests of his side to “create religious martyrs” along the road to achieving gay marriage. Yes, I would think so too, but 2009 seems like a long time ago on this issue. I don’t know that creating religious martyrs around the issue would be nearly as harmful to the cause as advocates like Laycock and Rauch feared a few years ago.

TMatt quotes a prominent religious liberty activist saying a big question “is whether those on the cultural left will be willing, at this point, to settle for civil unions.” I could be wrong, but I don’t think it’s a question at all. Of course they won’t settle for that. The SSM folks had that in California, but it wasn’t enough for them. Compromise is what you seek if you know you can’t triumph outright, or you respect your opponents’ right to be wrong so much that you want to provide a way to soften the blow of their loss. I see no reason to believe at this point that the SSM side won’t triumph outright within the next 10 years, and by and large, the gay rights side is as sympathetic to the rights of religious organizations and institutions to discriminate against homosexuals as civil rights organizations would have been towards whites who wanted to discriminate against blacks. That is, with the exception of a few people like the honorable Jonathan Rauch, the issue is framed entirely in terms of the black civil rights struggle — which leaves no room for an appropriate consideration of how something as important as religious liberty to American life should factor into our deliberations.


about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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