As far as the many on the left are concerned, Senator Marco Rubio’s comments about the possible implications of the acceptance of gay marriage makes more opposition research about the 2016 Republican presidential contender unnecessary. By telling an interviewer for the Christian Broadcast Network that he believed that “we are at the water’s edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech,” he supplied liberals with the sort of fodder they used to confirm their stereotypes about rabid, scare-mongering conservatives. If Rubio becomes the Republican nominee, expect this quote to be constantly thrown in his face as confirmation of his bigotry against gays. But while no one can halt the left-wing hate machine from operating in this fashion, it’s important to state now before the quote becomes the stuff of left-wing legend, that not only was it not a gaffe, it was a reasonable statement of fact that serious people on the left, as well as the right, should ponder in its entirely.

Let’s start by conceding, as Rubio clearly does, that the culture of the country has shifted on gay marriage. Where only a few years ago, even liberal Democrats like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were opposing it, now acceptance of it is on its way to becoming close to a consensus issue. But the question Rubio raises is not a frivolous one or scaremongering.

As we saw with the massive overreaction to the debate over Indiana’s passage of its own version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the culture shift did not stop at mere approval of gay marriages. The opprobrium being hurled at isolated individual store owners who state their religious-based opposition to the concept even if they are willing to provide service and courtesy to those with whom they disagree, is a dangerous sign. We have gone in almost a blink of an eye from such views being mainstream to them being marginalized.

That isn’t the problem. The problem is if those who stick to their religious beliefs about social issues stop being treated as a minority whose views deserve respect to one in which they are, as Rubio says, being treated as no longer deserving legal protection.

As we saw with the debate over the Hobby Lobby case, one didn’t have to agree with opponents of birth control or abortion-inducing drugs to realize that when we compel people to subsidize practices that violate their beliefs we are promoting a new cribbed view of the First Amendment that undermines the concept of religious liberty. If such views are only permissible inside a church or the home but no longer in the public square, then what we will only have is liberty for religious beliefs that are popular and none for those that are not.

Critics of Rubio mock his fears by pointing to the fact that Massachusetts has had gay marriage for years without anyone shutting down Catholic churches in the Bay state. That’s true, but Catholic charities have been driven out of adoption services. If we get to the point where clergy that will not perform gay marriages are viewed as practicing discrimination — something that is no longer unimaginable — then faiths that dissent on the practice will begin to be subjected to the sort of official discrimination that will give the lie to any talk of live and let live.

It would be wrong for anyone to pretend that we are at such a point now. Indeed, as Santorum noted, we are at “the water’s edge” of viewing such traditional beliefs as beyond the pale, is a reasoned debate by which we can accept the will of the majority on gay marriage while leaving room in the public square for those who believe this contradicts their faith and values.

Is that possible? To judge by the mob mentality that forced Brendan Eich out of his CEO job at Mozilla and the way Indiana was ostracized after its RFRA was passed, maybe not. Liberals don’t want to just win the culture war, as their treatment of stray Christian bakers and photographers who dissent on gay marriage indicates, they are not interested in taking prisoners.

That’s a trend that should scare all people of faith, as well as those who do not believe. Though Rubio will take a beating on this from the left and be cheered by social conservatives, his thoughtful and unprejudiced approach to the issue actually stands up to scrutiny in a way that ought to serve to start a productive discussion about how intolerance can come from the left as easily as the right. The illiberal and nature of the attack on religious conservatives ought to give pause to many on the left who once rightly condemned the marginalization of those on their side of such issues. Perhaps by demonstrating, at least to those who are willing to listen rather than merely engage in ad hominem attacks, that this is about freedom rather than bigotry, the senator has given us a chance to have a reasonable discussion about an issue on which tolerance and reason has always been in short supply.

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