Thursday, March 18, 2004
Andrew Sullivan is furious at the folks in The Corner for being insufficiently severe in their condemnation of Rhea County. And he's absolutely right to be.
Recall NRO's reaction to the Lott fiasco: they quickly demanded his head, on the grounds that segregation-nostalgia - even indulged in at a drunken birthday party for a 100-year-old man who had long since adjured his segregationist roots - was absolutely unacceptable. Whatever your views on the nature and reality of race, or of meliorist race-conscious policies like affirmative action, legalized segregation was a manifest affront to the equality of black Americans as citizens, and for that reason is anathema.
By the same token, whatever your views on the nature and reality of homosexuality, the idea of a county trying to expel its citizens for the "crime against nature" of being gay is absolutely anathema. Period. Even if you think a private employer or landlord should be allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, even if you think homosexuality is an "objective disorder," the actions of Rhea County are utterly and completely abhorrent. If the town tried to expel schizophrenics or atheists or others the citizenry found objectionable, that would be obviously and totally unacceptable; there would not be a debate. This is basic to what it means to be a free country, and there should be no ambiguity or cutesy posturing around it.
It is particularly incumbent on those who oppose same-sex marriage to be absolutely clear that they respect and will fight to protect the rights of gay people as citizens. There is every reason to believe that a significant portion of the opposition to same-sex marriage stems from pure animus towards gay people. That's not true of everyone who takes that position; it's not true of me, it's not true of Shelby Steele, it's not true of some of the folks at NRO (Ramesh Ponnuru, for example, who I would argue is the only true federalist in this debate). If we want to be able to argue for our position without being subject to the charge of bigotry, then we've got to be especially firm in opposing real bigotry. It's not just a matter of practical politics; it's a matter of moral obligation. Ideas have consequences, and if our opposition to same-sex marriage encourages anti-gay bigotry, and we could reasonably anticipate that, and we didn't do anything to preempt that effect, we bear some blame.
To those readers who disagree: please first read this piece here, a response to an excellent article in First Things about the Church, anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust. The conclusions I draw at the end are quite pertinent to my point here.