Posted by Brad @ 11:27 pm on March 5th 2014

Those Poor, Poor Anti-Gay “Dissenters”

As mentioned in the previous post, the last recourse for the anti-gay rights crowd, after they’ve been pushed entirely out of mainstream and political acceptance, is entirely defensive in nature – the fear that somewhere, someone will not be able to treat a gay person as a lesser class human being and get away with it.

As is often the case, Ross Douthat is there to provide a civil dressing up of the nobleness of bigotry. And, following the test cases of others like Maggie Gallagher, he puts forward a valiant effort explaining how the rights we really have to worry about are those belonging to Christian “dissenters” who won’t be able to freely practice discrimination anymore.

Mark Stern calls him out on it.

Step 3: Find an audience-appropriate euphemism for “discrimination.”

Douthat knows the typical Times reader is sophisticated enough to see past the hackneyed doublespeak of “religious liberty,” so he lands on a clever new euphemism for anti-gay discrimination: “dissent.” According to Douthat, the Arizona bill was just a way for “religious conservatives” to “carv[e] out protections for dissent.” He refers to anti-gay Christians as “a dissenting subculture,” and hopes more states pass Arizona-style laws that “let the dissenters opt out.” By rebranding anti-gay bigots as dissenters, Douthat transforms them from retrograde homophobes to virtuous objectors, unwilling to bend their beliefs to match public opinion. This makes them seem appealing—until you remember that their “dissent” is a hatred of gay people so vehement that they’ll violate non-discrimination laws just to make sure they never, ever have to provide a gay person with a basic service.

Now, I’ve been on record before as saying private businesses should be able to act as assholeish as they like, as far as I’m concerned. And the rest of us should be free to completely marginalize them.

But, two thoughts, one Stern gets to and one he does not.

The first is, as Stern points out, that non-discrimination laws protecting gays are no different than those protecting blacks or whatever other class you can think of. This is not an association Douthat wants, of course, and so he addresses the comparison by mentioning it exists and then moving on, but without ever refuting it. I can think of no conceivable moral logic that holds that the manager of a hotel has the moral right to turn away two gay guys on their honeymoon but not a black man and a white woman. Douthat gets around that by saying there are laws in Arizona against discrimination based on race but not based on sexual orientation (unsaid: that Douthout opposes laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation but not those based on race). I’ll be interested to see if his newfound deferral to legal protections of historically discriminated classes as an arbiter of the morality of said discrimination holds when the times comes.

The second, however, and what I still don’t understand, is how, say, a Christian florist providing flowers to a gay wedding is somehow read, dogmatically, as some kind of forced tacit approval of that Christian for that gay wedding. Is a Christian business owner’s service to customers supposed to be a case-by-case expression of his theological approval or disapproval of their lifestyle? How far is that meant to extend? Why do we take it as a given? Of course we don’t, really – it’s cherry picked to only apply to abortion and homosexuality – but still.

In any event, we still live in a country where Douthat can disapprove of whatever he likes. The only difference is he can’t wield that disapproval like a hammer against other people’s lives. A ready at Andrew Sullivan gets it.

I find I have little sympathy for the protestations of Douthat, Dreher, etc., and here’s why: what they’re protesting is their fading ability to dictate to others how to live their lives. They have not actually lost any rights, but rather lost a position of privilege and authority from which they have called the tunes to which others have been forced to dance. What they’re upset about isn’t the loss of power over their own lives; it’s about the loss of power over others’ lives. To which I say, “Boo-freaking-hoo.”

Again, more power to you Ross, on the ability of private individuals or even business owners to discriminate against whoever they want – be they gays, blacks, or Christians. And if I thought that was all he meant – a philosophical (and obtusely academic) libertarian point ala Rand Paul’s defense of opposition to the 1962 Civil Rights Act – I might give him less a hard time.

But I am pretty comfortable in sussing out that what he really means (whether he thinks its what he means or not) is “Christians can’t oppress homosexuals anymore and that sucks”. And, yeah, world’s tiniest violin.


  1. It seems to me that the best reason to allow “bigots” to opt out of service provision to homosexuals is a practical one. To wit: it may be possible to force a florist or a baker to provide services to a gay wedding against their will, but it is pretty much impossible to regulate against them doing a really, really shitty job of it.

    It seems to me that it’s actually more in the interest of your average gay couple to allow service providers to actively opt out, as opposed to doing so passive-aggressively, in which case you find out only after your horrible cake arrives and it’s too late to find a more tolerant provider.

    Comment by Rojas — 3/5/2014 @ 11:51 pm

  2. That’s a little overthought, I think.

    Here’s Rod Dreher’s rejoinder to Sully debating this point. This is not parody.

    Sullivan’s complaint is disingenuous. I hear all the time from religious conservatives in various fields — in particular media and academia — who are afraid to disclose their own beliefs about same-sex marriage because most people within those fields consider opposition to SSM to be driven solely by hatred.

    Earlier this year, I had a conversation with a man who is probably the most accomplished and credentialed legal scholar I’ve ever met, someone who is part of this country’s law elite. The fact that I can’t identify him here, or get into specifics of what he told me, indicates something important about the climate within law circles around this issue. On this issue, he lives in the closet, so to speak, within his professional circles, and explained to me why it has become too dangerous to take a traditionalist stand in law circles, unless one is prepared to sabotage ones career.

    That anybody could write such a thing without being aware of the gobsmacking hypocrisy of it – and I mean “smack the shit out of me on the side of my head” obviousness – is incredible to me. I don’t mean that as rhetorical hyperbole – I mean it amazes and stuns me. Here is Dreher arguing the injustice of anti-gay Christians having to live in fear of being fired or ostracized if they are honest about a core aspect of their personal lives, who must choose instead to live in a…let’s call it a closet…for fear of being outed and having their lives ruined.

    I mean, how you spend your career arguing against the mainstream acceptance of gays and write that very sincerely is just flabbergasting to me.

    Yes, being forced into a closet sucks.

    So write laws protecting the equality of people to live their own lives as they see fit without fear of retribution or legal discrimination so long as it doesn’t impede the rights of others that do the same. Repeal laws that don’t.

    Comment by Brad — 3/10/2014 @ 9:24 pm

  3. Okay. So does a law allowing photographers and florists to opt out of service provision for gay weddings do that or not?

    Comment by Rojas — 3/11/2014 @ 12:05 pm

  4. Not that I’m aware.

    The law also does not allow photographers and florists to opt out of service provisions relating to black people, Christians, or the disabled either.

    A legitimate question – indeed, the crux of it – is whether a theoretical provision that allows Christian florists to deny gay couples their services also allows a white supremacist restauranteur to do the same with blacks, or an able bodied barber to refuse haircuts to the disabled. If the answer is yes, fair enough – Dreher et al should make that argument. The moment they do, I will both respect and entertain their arguments about the sanctity of private choice. Their squaring of why, for instance, an anti-gay Christian shopkeeper can deny service to a homosexual, but a private university or Fortune 500 company should not be allowed to fire that same anti-gay Christian.

    If not – why not? If Douthat et al want to argue that evangelical discrimination against gays is of a different kind, in the eyes of the law, than discrimination against blacks or Christians or the disabled would be, let’s hear it. I am very interested to hear the rational basis that would allow a service discrimination against gays but not, say, Arabs, or “cripples”, or, indeed, Christians.

    However, if the argument of Dreher and Douthat et al is that there is something about Christians believing gays live an immoral lifestyle that qualifies them for some level of legal protection that, say, a white supremacist or anti-disabled retailers would or should not be allowed, let’s hear it. I. Am. All. Ears.

    If they do not have the balls to make the argument, I submit that they can, and will, go quietly into the night, mewling uselessly.

    Comment by Brad — 3/13/2014 @ 2:36 am

  5. Comment by Brad — 3/14/2014 @ 2:48 pm

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