Commentary Magazine


Topic: same-sex marriage

Brendan Eich, the Culture Wars, and the Ground Shifting Beneath Our Feet

Last month, Ross Douthat used his New York Times column to talk about how opponents of same-sex marriage (like himself) were attempting to negotiate the terms of surrender. “We are not really having an argument about same-sex marriage anymore, and on the evidence of Arizona, we’re not having a negotiation,” he wrote. “Instead, all that’s left is the timing of the final victory — and for the defeated to find out what settlement the victors will impose.”

Yesterday was the clearest indication that, in fact, such surrender is futile: it will not be accepted. The CEO of Mozilla (the company that makes the Firefox browser), Brendan Eich, was forced to resign by an angry mob both within and without the company because six years ago he donated $1,000 to California’s Prop 8 ballot initiative reaffirming traditional marriage. The most disturbing part of this disturbing story was the fact that the company chairwoman explained the decision by saying Eich never displayed any behavior that would be objectionable to anyone. He simply held the wrong political opinion. As Jonathan Last noted, this is pretty much the definition of prosecution for a thoughtcrime.

There are a few important implications of this story, though I’d like to offer the most encouraging one first: the pushback from supporters of gay marriage. Andrew Sullivan, who has been quoted or linked to by just about everyone on this story, was thoroughly disgusted by “the hounding of a heretic.” Slate’s William Saletan confronted the left with what the logical end of this purge would look like. He seems to think they’d be disgusted by it, which is probably wishful thinking. Sullivan notes that such behavior is bad for the gay-rights movement. It’s reminiscent of the scene in Caleb Crain’s novel of post-Cold War Prague in which the American protagonist is introduced to an East German who was anti-Communist until the Berlin Wall fell, and then, implausibly, switched sides:

Read More

Last month, Ross Douthat used his New York Times column to talk about how opponents of same-sex marriage (like himself) were attempting to negotiate the terms of surrender. “We are not really having an argument about same-sex marriage anymore, and on the evidence of Arizona, we’re not having a negotiation,” he wrote. “Instead, all that’s left is the timing of the final victory — and for the defeated to find out what settlement the victors will impose.”

Yesterday was the clearest indication that, in fact, such surrender is futile: it will not be accepted. The CEO of Mozilla (the company that makes the Firefox browser), Brendan Eich, was forced to resign by an angry mob both within and without the company because six years ago he donated $1,000 to California’s Prop 8 ballot initiative reaffirming traditional marriage. The most disturbing part of this disturbing story was the fact that the company chairwoman explained the decision by saying Eich never displayed any behavior that would be objectionable to anyone. He simply held the wrong political opinion. As Jonathan Last noted, this is pretty much the definition of prosecution for a thoughtcrime.

There are a few important implications of this story, though I’d like to offer the most encouraging one first: the pushback from supporters of gay marriage. Andrew Sullivan, who has been quoted or linked to by just about everyone on this story, was thoroughly disgusted by “the hounding of a heretic.” Slate’s William Saletan confronted the left with what the logical end of this purge would look like. He seems to think they’d be disgusted by it, which is probably wishful thinking. Sullivan notes that such behavior is bad for the gay-rights movement. It’s reminiscent of the scene in Caleb Crain’s novel of post-Cold War Prague in which the American protagonist is introduced to an East German who was anti-Communist until the Berlin Wall fell, and then, implausibly, switched sides:

“In reality I had no choice. So many horrible people were becoming anti-Communist that day. It was an opportunity for them. They were my–what is the word? In Czech they are called korouhvicky.”

“Weathervanes,” Rafe supplied.

“They were my weathervanes,” Kaspar continued. “If they were willing to betray Communism, there was something in the idea after all.”

What has always been so inexplicable about the marriage-equality movement is that its adherents have some strong arguments–libertarian, cultural, among others–in their favor, yet they don’t deploy them. They deploy the pitchforks and torches instead. Which brings us to the second implication of the Mozilla purge: religious liberty protections must be strengthened and codified wherever and whenever possible.

Religious Americans and others in favor of natural rights should not be complacent when a specific battle on this front is fought that doesn’t involve them, because the ground is continually shifting beneath our feet. Catholics should not be the only ones opposing the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, and opponents of gay marriage should not be the only ones up in arms about the forced baking of goods for wedding ceremonies. Precedents fuel the pitchforks here. Erick Erickson likes to say that “you will be made to care.” He is unquestionably correct about that.

The other implication has to do with the intended effect of such sickening purges: chilling the participation, especially of outnumbered minorities, in the political process. Yesterday I wrote about Charles Koch’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal defending himself from deranged attacks from the left generally and Senate Democrats specifically. No one pities the billionaire, I wrote, and so the left was outraged Koch would dare speak up for himself.

But forget about the Kochs for a moment. Forget, too, about the left’s major donors like Tom Steyer, who plans to spend $100 million in congressional midterm elections in support of Democrats. What about the guy who donated $1,000 to a state ballot initiative six years ago? Should he lose his job somewhere down the line because public opinion has shifted against an old ballot initiative? To the left, the answer is: Absolutely.

This is part of why conservatives have been leery about the Democrats’ proposals to force disclosure of the kind of donors who give to Republicans (while exempting many of their own major donors). The left claims it wants full disclosure of political participation in the name of transparency and electoral integrity. We now know this isn’t remotely true. They want disclosure so they can extend the purge of heretics from private life and thus deter libertarian and conservative political participation. They want a permanent record of everyone’s political opinions to use against them at any time in the future. This is about disenfranchisement and blacklisting and nothing more. That should have been apparent before, but it’s crystal clear now.

Read Less

Jody Bottum’s World-Weariness

Joseph Bottum, formerly the editor of the conservative-leaning religious journal First Things, has written an essay in Commonweal magazine titled, “The Things We Share: The Catholic Case for Same-Sex Marriage.” The essay got a big assist with a story in the New York Times.

Mr. Bottum isn’t saying he personally supports same-sex marriage; he’s saying he believes the Catholic Church should give up its opposition to the government sanctioning same-sex marriages. His shift on the issue has elicited, and will continue to elicit, quite a response, including this insightful one from Rod Dreher. 

I want to set aside for the moment Bottum’s arguments related to same-sex marriage and focus instead on a quote Bottum gave to the Times.

“I’ve given up on politics,” Mr. Bottum said, as we sat on his wide porch after lunch. “I’ll vote Republican, because I’m a Republican. But I don’t believe a change in culture can come from politics. It can only come from re-enchantment with the world.”

I have several reactions to this, starting with this one. What exactly does it mean to “give up on politics”? To give up on the importance of national elections? To give up the battle of ideas in which politics is the arena? To give up on the back-and-forth about matters like war and peace, justice and injustice, and the moral good?

Read More

Joseph Bottum, formerly the editor of the conservative-leaning religious journal First Things, has written an essay in Commonweal magazine titled, “The Things We Share: The Catholic Case for Same-Sex Marriage.” The essay got a big assist with a story in the New York Times.

Mr. Bottum isn’t saying he personally supports same-sex marriage; he’s saying he believes the Catholic Church should give up its opposition to the government sanctioning same-sex marriages. His shift on the issue has elicited, and will continue to elicit, quite a response, including this insightful one from Rod Dreher. 

I want to set aside for the moment Bottum’s arguments related to same-sex marriage and focus instead on a quote Bottum gave to the Times.

“I’ve given up on politics,” Mr. Bottum said, as we sat on his wide porch after lunch. “I’ll vote Republican, because I’m a Republican. But I don’t believe a change in culture can come from politics. It can only come from re-enchantment with the world.”

I have several reactions to this, starting with this one. What exactly does it mean to “give up on politics”? To give up on the importance of national elections? To give up the battle of ideas in which politics is the arena? To give up on the back-and-forth about matters like war and peace, justice and injustice, and the moral good?

Memo to Jody Bottum: Politics is one place–not the only place, but one important place–where we work for the good and health of our earthly city. Politics produced the American Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Civil Rights Act. In the 20th century politics produced leaders like Reagan, Thatcher, Churchill, and FDR. There are many other achievements and individuals one could name. Are we supposed to believe such things simply don’t matter anymore? That we should be indifferent to who our political leaders (and therefore, among other things, our Supreme Court Justices) are? Is politics just one giant game of Trivial Pursuit?

Such a view isn’t intellectual or morally serious–and because Bottum is a serious individual, I assume such statements must be the product of something else. I’ll assume world-weariness for now.

As for Bottum’s claim that “I don’t believe a change in culture can come from politics. It can only come from re-enchantment with the world.” This statement, too, is false. As Michael Gerson and I argue in City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era, sometimes culture is upstream of politics–but sometimes politics is upstream of culture. The interaction between the two is constant and ongoing. 

“A polity is a river of constantly changing compositions,” George Will wrote in Statecraft as Soulcraft, “and the river’s banks are built on laws.” The laws of a nation embody its values and shape them, in ways large and small, obvious and subtle, direct and indirect, sometimes immediately and often lasting. The most obvious examples from our own history concern slavery and segregation, but there are plenty of others, from welfare to education, from crime to drug use, to Supreme Court decision like Dred Scott v. Sandford, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, and Roe v. Wade.

Laws express moral beliefs and judgments. Like throwing a pebble into a pond, the waves ripple outward. They tell citizens what our society ought to value and condemn, what is worthy of our esteem and what merits our disapprobation. They both ratify and stigmatize. That is not all the laws do, but it is among the most important things they do.

The welfare system we had for much of the 20th century undermined personal responsibility and upward mobility–and the passage of welfare reform in 1996 started to reverse it. Rudy Giuliani’s policies in the 1990s helped transform New York, not only making it a far safer city but dramatically improving its spirit and ethos.

One final example: In April 1963 a group of eight Birmingham clergy members made an argument about the limits and dangers of political activism. In the Birmingham News, the clergymen criticized civil-rights activism as “unwise and untimely,” and urged Christians to show patience. (Perhaps they even believed the only way to end segregation was to rely on “enchanting” individuals like George Wallace and “Bull” Connor.)

Martin Luther King Jr., then in the Birmingham City Jail, began writing a response. “Frankly,” he said, “I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was ‘well timed’ in the views of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation.” Dr. King’s counter-argument was simple and convincing: patience for political injustice comes more easily for those who are not currently experiencing injustice. The result was one of the masterpieces in American political thought, King’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail.

Changing a culture of bigotry required not just waiting for changes in hearts; it required changes in laws. And the important work of instituting the right laws won’t be achieved by the world-weary among us.

Read Less

Faith, Liberty, and the “Price of Citizenship”

In 2007, a boardwalk pavilion in Ocean Grove, New Jersey lost its tax-exempt status after its owners, a Methodist organization, declined to allow same-sex couples to reserve the space for their weddings on religious grounds. The tax exemption was granted as part of a program to encourage owners of private property, such as the Ocean Grove beachfront space, to open their land to public use. The rest of the Methodist organization’s land retained its tax-exempt status.

It wasn’t equivalent to a church losing its exemption for denying its chapel for use in a same-sex wedding ceremony, but it was nonetheless concerning for defenders of religious liberty and the separation of church and state. It was sure to be only the beginning of such challenges, especially as acceptance of same-sex marriage increased. And now another domino has fallen. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the New Mexico Supreme Court “ruled Thursday that the owners of an Albuquerque wedding photography company violated state law when they turned away a lesbian couple who wanted to hire them to take pictures of their ceremony…. They rejected the argument of the devout Christian owners of Elane Photography who claimed they had a free speech and religious right not to shoot the ceremony.”

Read More

In 2007, a boardwalk pavilion in Ocean Grove, New Jersey lost its tax-exempt status after its owners, a Methodist organization, declined to allow same-sex couples to reserve the space for their weddings on religious grounds. The tax exemption was granted as part of a program to encourage owners of private property, such as the Ocean Grove beachfront space, to open their land to public use. The rest of the Methodist organization’s land retained its tax-exempt status.

It wasn’t equivalent to a church losing its exemption for denying its chapel for use in a same-sex wedding ceremony, but it was nonetheless concerning for defenders of religious liberty and the separation of church and state. It was sure to be only the beginning of such challenges, especially as acceptance of same-sex marriage increased. And now another domino has fallen. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the New Mexico Supreme Court “ruled Thursday that the owners of an Albuquerque wedding photography company violated state law when they turned away a lesbian couple who wanted to hire them to take pictures of their ceremony…. They rejected the argument of the devout Christian owners of Elane Photography who claimed they had a free speech and religious right not to shoot the ceremony.”

The Methodist owners of the boardwalk pavilion were participating in a government program, and were told they had violated the public nature of that program. In the case of Elane Photography the court found, as Sterling Beard points out, that the photographers’ policy violates the state’s human-rights law that “prohibits a public accommodation from refusing to offer its services to a person based on that person’s sexual orientation.”

Challenging the ruling doesn’t necessitate a belief that private businesses are not subject to anti-discrimination laws. But the ruling suggests that the owners of Elane Photography’s Christian beliefs are now classified as discriminatory under the state’s human-rights laws, threatening to put church and state in open–and open-ended–conflict. The part of the court’s decision that has received the most attention is this:

At its heart, this case teaches that at some point in our lives all of us must compromise, if only a little, to accommodate the contrasting values of others. A multicultural, pluralistic society, one of our nation’s strengths, demands no less. The Huguenins are free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish; they may pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives wherever they lead. The Constitution protects the Huguenins in that respect and much more. But there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life.

In the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people. That sense of respect we owe others, whether or not we believe as they do, illuminates this country, setting it apart from the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world. In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship.

The Huguenins are told by the courts that documenting and commemorating in pictures and words a ceremony that violates their religious beliefs is, though private enterprise, a public accommodation. And they are further told that their compulsion in this practice is “the price of citizenship”–in other words, the court thinks the Huguenins’ beliefs are not only technically discriminatory, but anti-American.

The truth is, the Huguenins challenged on free speech as well as free exercise grounds, and they attracted the support of legal scholars who support same-sex marriage but also value free speech. Eugene Volokh, Dale Carpenter, and the Cato Institute filed an amicus brief on the Huguenins’ behalf, arguing that photography is clearly protected under the First Amendment as creative expression:

Of course, when a photographer tells a couple that she does not want to photograph their commitment ceremony, the couple may be offended by the photographer’s disapproval. But the First Amendment does not treat avoiding offense as a sufficient interest to justify restricting or compelling speech. See, e.g., Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989).

The fact that people have a constitutional right to engage in writing, singing, photography, and the like also responds to the argument that people who do not want to photograph same-sex commitment ceremonies should just stop photographing weddings. Creating expressive works such as photographs (unlike delivering food, driving limousines, or renting out ballrooms) is a constitutional right. People who want to preserve their First Amendment rights to be free from compelled artistic expression cannot be required to surrender their First Amendment rights to engage in artistic expression in the first place.

Additionally, the court’s decision is a pertinent reminder that those making such decisions on American law and practice will often be ignorant of the religious doctrine they are dismissing, and that this ignorance will be a factor in rulings that impact religious Americans. The New Mexico court, for example, decided it had precedent to infringe on religious practice in the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws. The New Mexico court quotes the trial judge in Virginia justifying a ban on interracial marriage by saying that God created the different races of man and put them on different continents, and that the “fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

The New Mexico court follows up with this comment:

Whatever opinion one might have of the trial judge’s religious views, which mirrored those of millions of Americans of the time, no one questioned his sincerity either or his religious conviction. In affirming the Lovings’ convictions, Virginia’s highest court observed the religious, cultural, historical and moral roots that justified miscegenation laws.

That is a gross distortion of Christian belief by ignoring the difference between a Virginia judge assuming the intent of God and the wedding photographers following doctrinal text. One doesn’t have to share the Huguenins’ faith to see the flimsiness of the connection or worry about the effects of setting judicial precedent by relying on such a fundamentally dishonest rendering of the subject–to say nothing of how insulting it is to Christians to make such a comparison in the first place.

Nor should anyone underestimate the damage that can be done by judicial rulings on religious freedom that are propelled by hostility and ignorance to both religious practice and constitutional law.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.