A manufactured “train wreck”

Update: To illustrate the coordination of this article with other elements of the AGI, this action alert about the federal “marriage amendment” was sent out this morning by the “American Family Association”:

“Once homosexual marriage is legal, our religious liberties will be stripped away. Even pro-homosexual marriage advocates agree with that statement. To understand how this will happen, please take time read Dr. Maggie Gallagher’s rather long and accurate article by clicking here. Print it out and give a copy to your pastor!”

In an article to be published tomorrow in the Weekly Standard, anti-gay commentator Maggie Gallagher frames equal treatment under the law for GLBT people as creating an insurmountable conflict with religious liberty.

This is by no means a new argument, but it’s one that hasn’t enjoyed much traction except as a rallying cry to stir up the already anti-gay troops. Informed and thoughtful people find instances of religious speech suppression in nations that are not subject to our Bill of Rights less than compelling, apparently.

The purpose of this article is therefore to extend the argument, to explain why the religious liberty we all enjoy under our Bill of Rights is not enough for anti-gay “religious conservatives.” It’s a fascinating study in trying to justify the denial of equality to a class of people.

Consider what Gallagher, who is president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, must consider to be the seminal example of religious persecution. She leads with the recent announcement by Boston Catholic Charities that it will no longer act as an adoption agency.

At issue in this case is the Vatican directive that it is a violation of Catholic doctrine to place children for adoption with same sex couples. The Boston agency had, in fact, found permanent homes for some of their hardest to place children with gay and lesbian couples. This willingness to consider non-traditional families, on the part of social workers with boots on the ground, is no doubt the reason that Boston Catholic Charities “had long specialized in finding good homes for hard to place kids.” The agency’s decision to obey the Vatican directive meant that they would have been unacceptably hobbled in carrying out their mission – which for any adoption agency is to put the best interests of the children first.

Gallagher completely (and deliberately) misses the point by framing the issue as one of running afoul of Massachusetts’ anti-discrimination laws. She decries the unwillingness of Massachusetts legislators to issue “even the narrowest religious exemption” from the requirement that an institution providing sevices regulated by the state…actually be subject to regulation by the state – in this case to insure that nothing is placed above the best interests of children by an agency providing adoption services. She then draws the stunning conclusion that this reasonable requirement is the outcome of marriage equality, saying “..unexpectedly, a mere two years after the introduction of gay marriage in America, a number of latent concerns about the impact of this innovation on religious freedom ceased to be theoretical.”

The coming “train wreck” Gallagher warns of is the result, not of disregard for religious liberty, but of the insistence that an individual’s religious convictions should be able to trump the public interest in almost any circumstance. This position is being enthusiastically and continuously tested through the activites of Anti-Gay Industry outfits like the Alliance Defense Fund. This organization seems to exist for the sole purpose of creating court challenges to any legislative advance toward equality, which are then used as fodder for endless fear campaigns, “action alerts” and fundraising appeals.

In fact, true to form, Gallagher cites one of these ADF cases to buttress her argument – only with some glaring omissions. In this case, an Ohio State librarian was investigated for harassment because he recommended some particularly vicious anti-gay screeds for a freshman reading list. In Gallagher’s version, at issue was the relatively tame Rick Santorum book “It Takes a Family,” and the faculty members who reported feeling under attack were portrayed as petty and intolerant. She presents this conflict as an insidious type of “soft” coercion, by which “people who think gay marriage is wrong cannot know for sure where the line is now or where it will be redrawn in the near future.” Revealingly, she also claims that “[p]eople who favor gay rights face no penalty for speaking their views, but can inflict a risk of litigation, investigation, and formal and informal career penalties on others whose views they dislike.” [emphasis added] Perhaps she is unfamiliar with the fact that in Virginia, as in most other jurisdictions, gay employees still face the penalty of being fired without cause and with no legal recourse, but I doubt it.

She conveniently leaves out the other three books on the list. You be the judge. Would the following passage from “The Marketing of Evil” by David Kupelian make a reasonable GLBT person feel attacked, reviled and unsafe in the presence of a colleague who recommended it?

“To the person who’s already been “converted” and is acting out the homosexual “lifestyle,” it’s deeply satisfying – far beyond mere sexual pleasure – to “initiate” an innocent person. Doing so serves to anesthetize his own conscience and assuage his inner conflict by destroying the innocence of another person, since that innocence tends to make him aware of his own corruption.”

How about this one?

“Glorifying dysfunctionality and corruption, we have relieved homosexuals of the inner conflict they once felt over their condition – something they desperately need, indeed all of us need, if we’re ever going to overcome our problems and find wholeness.”

Is the libelous equation of being gay with criminal behavior toward children, and the threat to reacquaint gay people with our desperately needed “inner conflict” a reasonable enough place to draw “the line” regarding the creation of a hostile environment?

The real problem with Gallagher’s essay is that it has no moral center, and offers no way forward. If, indeed, we are barreling toward an inevitable train wreck between the fundamental rights of GLBT people and the religious liberty of people who think we shouldn’t exist, what’s the solution? What criteria do we use to weigh one interest against the other? She offers nothing to her readers but encouragment to feel fear and dread.

Interestingly, she points out that it’s pro-equality religion and law scholars who readily acknowledge that anti-gay bias will in the future become as socially unacceptable as racism, and that these clashes will therefore be “severe and pervasive.” As she puts it, “..we don’t arrest people for being racists, but the law does intervene in powerful ways to punish and discourage racial discrimination, not only by government but also by private entities.”

This is true because people, acting through the branches of government, have decided that we don’t want to support racist ideas as a matter of public policy. Racist ideas have become marginalized, such that claiming a “religious exemption” for putting them into practice doesn’t fly any more. Bob Jones University tried to defend its prohibition on interracial dating by claiming it was religiously based, but a public policy interest in treating people as equals was weighted more heavily.

For Gallagher, the question amounts to: Will there be similar shifts in public opinion and public policy that will marginalize anti-gay viewpoints? and the answer is yes. Unfortunately, she and those who share her viewpoint believe that their desire to avert this shift trumps any other interest.

Her argument can be boiled down to this statement: The right to have my viewpoint protected from marginalization is more important than the right of another group of people to equal treatment under the law and an equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That sounds suspiciously like a special right.

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4 Responses to A manufactured “train wreck”

  1. Russell says:

    Would make a great Sunday article in the Post.

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