Do Gays Have To Feel Empathy Toward Religious Conservatives Who Hate Them?

Rod Dreher mug in color

If you don’t see things from the side of bigots, are you doing a disservice to the gay rights movement? Sure, we want marriage rights, and we want them now! (along with the ability to serve openly in the military, visit our ailing loved ones in the hospital, and adopt kids if we so choose), but is it prohibitive to maintain a zero tolerance policy against anyone who disagrees with us?

We might be willing to entertain the possibility that we need to be more understanding of folks who use God to defend their hatemongering, but too bad the argument is raised by the Dallas Morning News‘s Rod Dreher, who says that not only should religious conservatives feel empathy toward us, but so should we toward them.

That’s a big part of the gay marriage side’s problem: They cannot imagine why, aside from bigotry, anyone would disagree with them. To be sure, anyone on the traditional marriage side who doesn’t understand that denying marriage to same-sex couples imposes a serious burden on them is either willfully ignorant or hard-hearted. The thing is, empathy should go both ways.

Okay, let’s hear you out, Rod.

Leaving aside that there is undoubtedly a significant number of people who vote against gay marriage because they flat-out don’t like gay people, there are serious and important reasons to vote against same-sex marriage – and these deserve to be taken seriously.

Like what?

For starters, gay marriage represents a cultural revolution, a fundamental redefinition of what marriage means. Until the past 10 or 20 years, no society had ever sanctioned marriage between same-sex partners. It was unthinkable outside of a small radical fringe. Now, in the twinkling of an eye, it’s coming to pass in a few countries, though the vast majority of humankind still finds it unthinkable.

That’s not an argument against gay marriage, but it is an explanation for why gay marriage remains unpopular in this country. Culture precedes politics. If you cannot change culture, you’re reduced to arguing, as same-sex marriage supporter Linda Hirshman did in the wake of the Maine defeat, that people shouldn’t have the right to vote on the definition of marriage.


Well once upon a time, in this very country, the idea that black people were not somebody’s property was a “cultural revolution” and a “fundamental redefinition” of what it means to be human, but we wouldn’t look back on that and say we should feel empathy toward slaveowners, would we?

But maybe, Rod — seen here with his heterosexual family, who nobody is asking anyone to feel empathy towards — maybe you’ve got a point.

Along those lines, gay marriage backers often say that civil rights shouldn’t be submitted to a popular vote. If blacks in the Jim Crow South had depended on a majority vote to gain their civil rights, justice would have been a long time coming. That makes sense to people who see no moral or philosophical difference between race and homosexuality. But it is by no means clear that the two categories are interchangeable. For traditionalists, it’s a category mistake to say that they are.

And here’s where we’re about to give up on your thesis, Rod. Because also, once upon a time, some people saw a huge “moral or philosophical difference” between whites and blacks, and at the time it was “by no means clear that the two” races were “interchangeable.”

One more shot, Rod. We’re getting tired here.

Which brings us to another reason majorities oppose gay marriage: the belief that its supporters are all too willing to force their own particular view of marriage and its meaning on an unwilling society. It’s simply not true that their viewpoint is neutral. To believe that same-sex marriage is the equivalent of heterosexual marriage is to accept that the essence of marriage is fundamentally different from what it has always been.

The essence of marriage is “fundamentally different from what it has always been.” It used to be a property transaction. Now, it’s argued, marriage is a union of love and a vessel for procreation. Except plenty of heteros abuse that “definition.”

Final thoughts, Rob?

[T]houghtful traditionalists understand that legalizing same-sex marriage almost certainly would bring about serious restrictions on freedom of speech and association, particularly for churches and religious organizations. Nobody is going to force pastors to marry same-sex couples, but legal scholars, including prominent gay-rights advocate and law professor Chai Feldblum, have plainly said that there is an irresolvable conflict between religious freedom and gay civil rights – and only one side can prevail.

You can’t expect gay folks to privilege religious liberties over their own interests, but likewise, why is it bigoted for religious traditionalists to stand up for what they believe to be bedrock rights – rights that will be curtailed by same-sex marriage?

We love religious liberties. Not just because we believe in the freedom to think and pray any way you choose, but because many “gay folks” are religious! They believe in loving thy neighbor and all that jazz; they don’t believe in hating thy neighbor simply because he was born a certain way.

And then there’s this:

Gay marriage opponents are not crazy to fear what may be done to them should same-sex marriage become the law of the land. In California, supporters of Proposition 8, which repealed same-sex marriage, have suffered vandalism, job and business loss, intimidation and harassment by activists. One would have to be deeply naïve, indeed foolish, to trust that traditionalist dissent will be tolerated once these groups gain the legal upper hand.

We’re not advocates of violence or vandalism by any means. But we wouldn’t want to employ racists or anti-Semites — what employer would, beside racist and anti-Semitic ones? So why, then, should Americans be forced to “accept” your anti-gay hatred?

We won’t. And we’re barely willing to tolerate it.

(Photo via)