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Intolerance and Extremism

For me, the most disturbing thing about the whole public fight over gay rights and free speech is the apparent conviction by many on the pro-SSM side that the unique horribleness of opposition to SSM justifies almost any measure to fight it. To paraphrase Barry Goldwater’s most famous, and radically unconservative, remark, “Extremism in defense of gay rights is no vice.”

I am reminded of the time back in 1993 I was at a restaurant in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, having lunch with three female friends, all liberal Democrats. We’d had a good day. Somehow in conversation it came out that I was a pro-life Catholic. The three women, with whom I had been friendly (one was actually a housemate of mine), turned on me, and began castigating me loudly and publicly. One of them was on the verge of tears, and told the others, “I feel unsafe with him here.”

I threw money on the table to pay for my lunch, and told those three hysterics that I was done with them. And I left. I never spoke to the other two again, and as for my housemate, who was normally a wonderful person, she later allowed that maybe they had gone too far, but honestly, I had no right to expect better, given the awfulness of my pro-life views.

The point is, they ceased to see me as a human being, indeed their friend (or at least their pleasant acquaintance), and saw me instead as the Enemy — this, only because they learned that I believed something they opposed.

I hate this kind of thing. You see it at the far fringes of pro-life activism, with people who besiege the homes of abortionists and abortion clinic workers. I instinctively despise people who, in the name of their cause, however righteous (and I do believe in the pro-life cause!), believe that that cause absolves them of having to observe prudence and the unwritten laws of common decency that allow us to live in community. They may end up getting what they want, but at a cost a pluralistic democracy cannot bear.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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