Political Correctness

Gay Rights, Intolerance, and Racial Parallels

Persecution of dissent on gay marriage is bad not only for intellectual freedom and the cultural climate but ultimately, perhaps, for gay equality as well.

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Brendan Eich's departure as CEO of Mozilla in the backlash over his 2008 donation of $1,000 to the campaign for Proposition 8, the California initiative that limited marriage to opposite-sex couples, has sparked a new backlash—over free speech. There has been some absurdly overheated rhetoric on the right, with mentions of the gulag, fascists, jihad, and Torquemada. But even gay authors who champion marriage equality, such as Andrew Sullivan, Frank Bruni, and Dale Carpenter, have assailed a new orthodoxy and intolerance in the liberal camp. 

There is no question that Eich's resignation under pressure highlights a larger trend: the increasingly prevailing view that all opposition to same-sex marriage is bigotry akin to racism. In many ways, this attitudinal shift has helped same-sex marriage (for instance, by advancing the judicial opinion that discrimination against gay unions has no rational basis). But if it turns to persecution of dissent, the consequences will be bad not only for intellectual freedom and the cultural climate but ultimately, perhaps, for gay equality as well.

In some ways, the Eich scandal is not the best test case for free speech: being CEO of a company heavily dependent on community relations inevitably limits one's ability to take controversial positions. As usual, it's a matter of whose proverbial ox is being gored: How many of Eich's conservative defenders would be upset if he was in hot water over a donation to a militant atheist group, to the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, or to an organization seeking a total ban on handguns?  And, of course, social conservatives have hardly been averse to using the power of the market against pro-gay expression (recall, in the late 1990s, the "Ellen" boycott and that of ABC's "Nothing Sacred," a series about a Catholic priest who questioned church teachings on sexuality).

However, conservative hypocrisy doesn't make the liberal version better. And, given that Eich was hardly a crusader against same-sex marriage, the "outing" of his donation, the organized anti-Firefox campaign after his promotion, and the pressure on him to publicly recant and affirm his support for same-sex marriage do have nasty inquisitorial overtones.

More troubling examples of new intolerance come from the academy. Earlier this year, the Stanford chapter of the Anscombe Society, which advocates premarital chastity and other traditional values, was granted its request for $600 in Graduate Student Council funds toward a symposium on "Marriage, Family and the Media."  Then, news of the event, intended to promote the idea of marriage as a one-man, one-woman union, caused an outcry from campus activists. At the March 12 meeting of the Council, the conference was denounced as promoting "hateful," "bigoted," and "unacceptable" ideas. The funding was revoked; the Undergraduate Senate also turned down the Society's request for funds.  While the group was able to secure other funding, the university administration tried to hit it with $5,600 in "security fees" for the April 5 event—though this demand was dropped after negative publicity and pressure from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Meanwhile, at Swarthmore, a February panel featuring Princeton professors Cornel West and Robert George drew heated objections because of George's conservative views of sexuality and marriage—rather ironically, considering that the central theme of the event was communication across differences in values.  While the panel eventually proceeded without disruption, many students interviewed for Swarthmore's Daily Gazette expressed unhappiness with it, and specifically with the notion that George's ideas deserved a hearing. During question and answer, a student chastised West for providing a platform to someone with such views.

Let's face it: however committed we may be to intellectual diversity and free exchange of ideas, few would criticize a school's refusal to fund an event in defense of anti-miscegenation laws, or welcome the presence of a white supremacist on a panel about bridging differences. Should the belief that marriage is a male-female union be treated the same way? For many, the answer is yes. At Slate.com, some commenters have criticized the magazine for merely allowing columnist William Saletan—a supporter of equal marriage rights for gays—to argue that opposition to same-sex marriage is not equivalent to racism.

Yet in many situations, we do recognize that gender is not the same as race, legally or morally.  In law, racial distinctions are (properly) presumed to be insidious and virtually always illegitimate; sexual distinctions are acceptable with a much less stringent "rational interest" test. The "separate but equal" principle, repugnant as a basis for racial segregation—an analogy commonly used against the idea of civil unions—is far more acceptable for the sexes. Much to the chagrin of radical feminists, there is no taboo on either research or popular discourse on psychological and cognitive sex differences. The backlash against then-Harvard President Lawrence Summers, and his eventual ouster, after he speculated that female underrepresentation in science could be at least partly due to biology was widely regarded as dogmatic intolerance.

In 2000, Andrew Sullivan wrote a New York Times Magazine article arguing that hormones make men and women fundamentally different: men are competitive, risk-taking, action-oriented and power-seeking, women are nurturing, empathetic, relationship-oriented and safety-minded.  Personally, I find such claims vastly exaggerated and overgeneralized (Sullivan's assertions were questioned by many critics, myself included).  But are they bigoted and unacceptable in decent society? No. And surely it makes sense that, for some non-bigoted people, the belief in fundamental sexual difference justifies a special status for male-female marriage—not only as a reproductive relationship but as a joining of humanity's two distinct halves, based on complementary masculine and feminine qualities.  

Given the general shift toward sex-neutral law and policy as well as flexible cultural attitudes toward gender—all of which, as far as I'm concerned, are welcome developments—such arguments for the heterosexual nature of marriage have lost much of their potency. However, that does not mean the debate itself should be terminated. The threshold of bigotry for gender is set much higher than for race; and so it should remain. There is a big difference between the view that women shouldn't be allowed to vote and the view that women shouldn't be allowed to serve in combat. There is, likewise, a big difference between the view that gays should be socially ostracized and denied all legal protections for their relationships, and the view that marriage rooted in sexual complementarity and the mother-father bond should retain some measure of privilege.

Many advocates of gay equality explicitly say they want all opposition to same-sex marriage to be treated exactly like racism: as shameful and contemptible. But such a hardline attitude is not necessarily a pathway to progress.  For one, when a large segment of the population sees its cultural values not only displaced but ostracized and stifled, its hostility to social change is likely to become more bitter. In such a climate, it won't seem too paranoid for religious groups to fear that even civil same-sex marriage will infringe on their freedom. Could churches that stick to the traditional definition of marriage be reduced to pariah status like sects that condemn racial mixing? Could religious colleges that don't recognize same-sex relationships be denied public benefits, as Bob Jones University once was over its interracial relationship ban?

Such a climate would very likely drive members of traditionalist faiths further away from the mainstream—perhaps causing them to become more hardcore in their cultural conservatism. And, in countries where gays still face an uphill battle for basic freedom of expression and advocacy, the perception that gay equality leads to censorship and suppression toward conservative sexual values is almost certain to make resistance to gay rights far more entrenched. (On Russian Internet forums, critics of the Kremlin's odious recent ban on "homosexual propaganda" are often dismissed with, "Well, try criticizing gay marriage in America!")

Yes, tolerance for dissent on same-sex marriage feels deeply insulting to many gays and lesbians, to whom this is tantamount to putting their human rights up for debate. Yet some women may feel the same about tolerance for pro-life advocacy, or for religious beliefs that support male leadership in the family, or for the view that women's highest calling is caring for home and children. Anti-immigration arguments may feel deeply hurtful to immigrants; critiques of single parenthood may feel like personal attacks to single parents or their children. In an open society, one person's free speech does not end at another's comfort zone.

So let us by all means continue to affirm a commitment to gay equality; but let's go easy on racial parallels, and avoid pushing more ideas beyond the pale.

NEXT: Steve Chapman: Harmless Drones Get Federal Flak

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  1. “I have nothing against gays getting married…as long as they are the same race”

    -Dave Attell

    1. I used to love watching Dave Attell. The late night thing… open ’till dawn or something like that. Funny guy. What ever happen to him?

      1. Insomniac with Dave Attell is the show you’re thinking of I think. I didn’t watch it, but I remember seeing ads for it. I haven’t seen him since it went off the air.

      2. He’s still doing stand up. My girlfriend saw him at a club a few weeks ago.

  2. There is a big difference between the view that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote and the view that women shouldn’t be allowed to serve in combat.

    Blasphemy!

  3. But if it turns to persecution of dissent,

    If? It never fails to amaze me how naive many of the Reason writers are when it comes to the Left. They just so want to believe that Progs mean well and can be trusted and will some day see the error of their ways.

    Twenty years ago no one who objected to gay marriage would have been called a bigot. Now everyone who does is. This is how the Left operates. Pick a culture war issue that your political opponents are generally on the other side of, define everyone who objects to it as a bigot and then slander all of your opponents as bigots and use that charge to get people to run them and their views out of society and debate in general.

    The Left can’t make a rational argument for their policies. So they sell their policies as a way to show you are not a bigot like the other side. When they are done with making it impossible for anyone to publicly object to gay marriage and hold any sort of public position, they will pick another culture war issue and do the same thing.

    Could churches that stick to the traditional definition of marriage be reduced to pariah status like sects that condemn racial mixing? Could religious colleges that don’t recognize same-sex relationships be denied public benefits, as Bob Jones University once was over its interracial relationship ban?

    Yes Cathy, that is the plan. You don’t think the fascist left embraced this issue because they give a shit about gays do you?

    1. When they are done with making it impossible for anyone to publicly object to gay marriage and hold any sort of public position, they will pick another culture war issue and do the same thing.

      Any speculations on what the next issue will be?

      I say “polygamy”.

      1. Maybe. My guess is cross dressers and trannies. Reason is already on board with the idea that unisex bathrooms are the only way to go. There is currently a study group at the Pentegon looking into the “giving the transgendered the right to serve”.

        I would like to think that at some point they would go a bridge too far and people would stand up. I am not that optimistic. The Left owns the mass culture and people seem to have a compulsive need to show how “tolerant” they are.

        1. Accommodating the non-cis is pretty much a thing already.

          Yeah, it’s difficult to think what would be a bridge too far. Maybe something having to do with child molestation.

          1. NABLA would definitely be a bridge too far. They are so insane I wouldn’t put it pass them to embrace anything. It is pretty unlikely though. A large number of Progs make their living in the “fight and recover from child sex abuse” business. De-stigmatizing child sex would put them out of jobs.

          2. Maybe something having to do with child molestation.

            Stop The Hate, Free Kate

        2. Once again you confuse the distinction between transvestites and transgender.

          This is a transvestite, while this is a transgender.

          1. I know the distinction. I just think it is all crap. I think the “transgendered” are just transvestites who take their act a bit more seriously.

            1. I’ve known both, and one has nothing to do with the other.

              1. Do you mean “know” in the Biblical sense?

            2. That is as ridiculous as the other side claiming there is no difference between men and women.

            3. Let me put it this way. The transvestites I’ve known were secure heterosexual men who for some unexplained reason liked to dress in women’s clothing once in a while.

              The transgendered I’ve known did not dress in women’s clothing until after the operation, nor were they homosexual. They were just, well, odd.

              We’re talking mutually exclusive things here. You should stop talking about them like they were synonyms because it only makes you look like an ignoramus.

              1. because it only makes you look like an ignoramus.

                You tell him!

                Because speaking from personal experience using phrases like, “for some unexplained reason” and “just, well, odd” clearly shows your divine understanding and tolerance.

              2. The transvestites I’ve known were secure heterosexual men who for some unexplained reason liked to dress in women’s clothing once in a while.

                Don’t drag queens, who are almost exclusively gay, count as transvestites? Sure, the look is over the top but they’re still dressing as women.

                1. I’ve never personally known any drag queens.

      2. The leftist politicians I knew were leery of even mentioning polygamy, much less of supporting it. Perhaps part of the problem was that they thought polygamists weren’t of their tribe and wouldn’t vote for them, so FYTW.

        1. Yeah. Some polygamists are left over hippies from the swinging culture. The majority of them are religious Mormons and Muslims. I can’t see the Left latching onto a cause that would help religious people. The point of these things is to use them as weapons to oppress and punish their enemies. Polygamy offers limited potential to do that. Also, a good number of feminists object to polygamy.

          I would be surprised if polygamy ever gets much traction in this country.

          1. dammit – I wanted multiple women to abuse me

            1. After the Bin Ladin raid, there was an article about his multiple wives. Basically, he had a couple of old ones and a young hot one he had just brought in from Saudi Arabia. The old ones of course hated the young hot one and were convinced she was the one that ratted them out to the US. The article made me wonder if Bin Ladin didn’t call the US himself and tell them to just come kill him so he wouldn’t have to listen to the bitching and drama all of the time. Can you imagine being locked in a compound with three wives?

              1. Most cases I have read about repot general satisfaction with polygamous arrangements, especially for the women.

                This is my opinion, but I think polygamy would be a downer for men in general. If a man was not an “alpha” type, he might find himself with very few choices of women. There would be much more intense male competition. I’m not sure all the betas out there would like that.

          2. How about in certain municipalities, then?

      3. For it or against it? Must be against since polygamy is often based on dogma an almost always involves a dominating patriarch.

        1. Oh, good point.

          We can’t have more than one Statess running the show.

      4. Any speculations on what the next issue will be?

        Normalizing Cannibalism.

        1. No doubt you will never see this, but that is hilarious!

      5. I don’t think they ever really have an agenda so much as they throw shit against the wall to see what sticks. They thought global warming was really going to expand their power, close but no cigar.They will try it all, rape culture, patriarchy, climate, income inequality, etc.

    2. They’ve already moved on to tranny rights. But that’s really a subcategory of gay rights, IMO.

      They’ve made a few probing attacks on food regulation. For that, though, I really think they need more/total control of health care financing. That’s the hook they want to hang it on.

      For some reason, I’m thinking they may ramp up the attacks on parental rights. There’s no black-and-white wedge issue here that I can think of, so it will be more of the grinding incrementalism they so enjoy.

      1. Ah yes, if you do not raise your children lime we say, you are a child abuser.

        This will be the next culture war issue.

        Fucking progs.

        1. Fucking autocorrect.

    1. Out of commitment to diversity, we are going to have to fire everyone who in anyway deviates from the approved orthodoxy.

    2. Just like math!

  4. Such a climate would very likely drive members of traditionalist faiths further away from the mainstream?perhaps causing them to become more hardcore in their cultural conservatism. And, in countries where gays still face an uphill battle for basic freedom of expression and advocacy, the perception that gay equality leads to censorship and suppression toward conservative sexual values is almost certain to make resistance to gay rights far more entrenched. (On Russian Internet forums, critics of the Kremlin’s odious recent ban on “homosexual propaganda” are often dismissed with, “Well, try criticizing gay marriage in America!”)

    That is an excellent point. If left is allowed to use gay rights in western Europe as a way to go after religion, the message to every country in the world will be “you better not give an inch on gays or this is what will end up happening”. Worse still, the Left cares more about colonial grievances than they ever have about gays. The gays in those countries can expect little help from the West.

  5. a new orthodoxy and intolerance in the liberal camp

    Just an isolated incident. I blame the absurdly overheated rhetoric on the right.

    1. It is just an internet meme started by Koch astro turf SIV. There is no such thing as intolerance on the right. Don’t let those evil fundies play the victim card.

    2. absurdly overheated rhetoric

      Nice band name.

  6. If all of you didn’t insist on having the state define and license marriage for you, this would be less of an issue I would have to keep hearing about. Just putting it out there as something to consider.

    1. That is true. The debate is not about “marriage”. You can call yourself married all you want. What you can’t do is get the government to make other people recognize your marriage. I couldn’t as an employer say FOE’s marriage is good but SIV’s isn’t, assuming they both had a valid marriage license. The reason you get a license is to use it to force everyone to recognize your marriage. Indeed, lots of people never bother to get one and have common law marriages.

      Right or wrong, people like being able to go to the state and get a piece of paper that makes society recognize their marriage. I don’t think taking that right away from everyone will ever be politically feasible.

      1. Right or wrong, people like being able to go to the state and get a piece of paper that makes society recognize their marriage.

        It isn’t just a matter of getting the state to certify your marriage, it’s all of the legal issues which depend on the state recognizing your marriage. If a marriage between two people was legally recognized solely on the basis that both people simply agreed that they were married to each other then nobody would bother with licensing or any of that mess. The only reason that state recognition of a marriage is important is because, without it, you have no legal standing as a married couple, including the numerous rights which you accrue as a part of a marriage.

        1. including the numerous rights privileges which you accrue as a part of a marriage.

          FTFY. You don’t gain any actual rights by being married. Rights belong to individuals. Forcing your employer to pay for your spouse’s health care, getting priority immigration status, and obtaining more tax exemptions are not “rights” in any legitimate sense of the word.

          1. You gain rights of succession for property .

    2. I think this is the only proper way this can end. State enforced marriage and all the state force that potentially comes from it will result in a net loss of freedom. Also, i think that once said loss of freedom is publicized(think florists and bakers)many people who might have been inclined to the LP may lose interest.

  7. Anyone who disagrees with a tolerant person is intolerant, and tolerant people do not tolerate intolerance.

    Thus the more intolerant a tolerant person is of anyone who disagrees with them, the more tolerant they are.

    1. We are just intolerant of the intolerant sarcasmic. Can’t you see that?

      /sarc

  8. and you know who else was intolerant of homosexuals…

    1. Che Guevara?

    2. Rohm?

      No, wrong example.

    3. My high school gym teacher. However, he was cool about drugs. Help him cop an ounce of pot and you got an automatic A for the semester.

      1. Without bothering with going to class.

  9. Sometimes man you just have to roll with it.

    http://www.GotsDatAnon.tk

  10. “In law, racial distinctions are (properly) presumed to be insidious and virtually always illegitimate; sexual distinctions are acceptable with a much less stringent “rational interest” test.”

    The federal courts purport to apply an “intermediate scrutiny” test for sex. In some cases this is simply BS, but in theory it’s distinct from both rational basis and compelling interest.

  11. Why, exactly, would the gay-rights folks change the tactics which have already won them so many victories.

    “OK, in a few short years we got laws and court decisions to recognize SSM, we get to sue private businesses who won’t recognize our relationships, we can drive out opponents out of their jobs – we’re putting traditional marriage supporters into the position of racists – oh no, we’ll have to reconsider our methods!”

    Right.

    1. They did not win legislative victories by name-calling.

  12. Such a climate would very likely drive members of traditionalist faiths further away from the mainstream ? perhaps causing them to become more hardcore in their cultural conservatism.

    And we don’t want that.

    Right?

    1. Even after many of the Puritans left England for America, there were still enough left in the old country to cut off the king’s head. So there’s that.

  13. (On Russian Internet forums, critics of the Kremlin’s odious recent ban on “homosexual propaganda” are often dismissed with, “Well, try criticizing gay marriage in America!”)

    Who cares what the Russkies are saying in their internet forums? Release the intolerance against bigots who are intolerant!

    1. The poor bigots never get a break. It’s so sad.

  14. “I was in the military 30 years ago when it meant something. I don’t deal with gays.” –nameless pilot

    1. The only thing better than data is anecdote, and the only thing better than anecdote is anonymous anecdote.

  15. Sorry, but I’ve been following the Reason and Cato take on same-sex marriage and other marriage related issues for some years and I don’t buy it. You’re the global warming mongers of the marriage issue; absolutely as anti-libertarian as can be imagined (both organizations). You’re activists, not above lying at all; not in the least; and not the least bit concerned about preserving basic human rights. You’re driven to support the homosexual agenda. All of the extremism is yours. You bought and paid for it. You own it. You’ve used it again and again. Now that you’re faced with something not popular, it’s time for moderation. It’s just like the warmers advocating the death penalty for anyone who’s skeptical of their BS, and then preaching complexity and uncertainty when it’s obvious they’ve lost the debate. I’m sure you’ll be back ignoring the loss of civil liberties related to the drive (how it’s done) for marriage “equality” (as opponent to individual rights) once the controversy dies down.

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  17. Let’s face it: however committed we may be to intellectual diversity and free exchange of ideas, few would criticize a school’s refusal to fund an event in defense of anti-miscegenation laws, or welcome the presence of a white supremacist on a panel about bridging differences.

    Maybe that kind of hypocrisy is the actual problem. Ironically, I doubt either anti-miscegenation or racial supremacy would receive any opposition in a university setting if the speaker or panelist were black (a quick trip to the African American studies department will quickly confirm). Possibly, squelching unpopular speech isn’t cool regardless of the prevailing standard of popularity.

    1. few would criticize a school’s refusal to fund

      few would have the guts to criticize a school’s refusal to fund

      There fixed it for everybody.

  18. You mention the “organized anti-Firefox campaign.” Is there any way to know how many Firefox users (though disorganized, some would say independent)turned anti-anti-Firefox,disapproved and uninstalled and fired off an email saying so? I haven’t read a word about the size or success of that spontaneous reaction to Eich’s pressured resignation. Why? Someone like a reporter should ask Mozilla for some numbers, the company being, you know, open and all.

  19. Progressives aren’t hypocritical on gay marriage: they believe that it is their right and duty to impose proper behavior on society. You can argue that they are wrong (I certainly would), but not that they are hypocritical.

    I also don’t see anything wrong in principle with the ousting of Eich: it’s a private foundation, many of its contributors are aggressively progressive, and they have a right to determine their CEO by whatever criteria they like. That doesn’t make their choice right or sensible, but it’s their choice to make.

  20. I think we can perhaps learn a little from Bill Nye who was willing to debate Ken Ham despite the fact that, in his heart of hearts, he probably thinks Ham is as dumb as a rock. Snarky dismissiveness is useless when people are anything but a teeny-tiny minority. Even “dumb” viewpoints should be addressed as real, respectable and evenpower-wielding human beings hold them.

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