Why opposing same sex marriage isn’t like racism

A lot of people are upset with me for this post, in which I argued that Baronelle Stutzman, a Southern Baptist florist who happily sold flowers to a gay man for 9 years, should not be compelled against her conscience to arrange flowers for his same sex wedding

NOTE: I am not saying the florist should decline same sex weddings. I certainly do not think she was right to tell her longtime customer she would not be involved in the aesthetics of his wedding “because of [her] relationship with Jesus Christ.” I agree that on the list of people who might prefer to opt-out of participating in certain marriage ceremonies on religious grounds, florists rank near the bottom. All I am saying is that the state should not financially ruin her with fines and punishing legal fees because she refused to violate her conscience.

The #1 challenge I hear from people appalled at my post is the supposed parallel to racism: “If you support this disgusting anti-gay bigot, then you must also be okay with a business declining to serve an interracial wedding.”

Not so.

Believing that marriage is a man and a woman is not the same as believing that certain races are inferior or that people from different racial backgrounds cannot form a marriage. As a matter of religious objection, there is no legitimate way to argue from Christianity that marriage cannot exist between people of different races. Even when white racists in the South and throughout the country vehemently opposed “miscegenation” — and appealed to the Bible in their arguments — they did not deny that a marriage existed between, say, a black woman and a white man.

People who object to same-sex marriage are, as I understand it, making an altogether different claim: they do not believe marriage can exist between two men or two women. So a same-sex wedding does not unite a couple in marriage at all. And, to the degree that their participation in the event could be construed as assent/approval/acceptance (very debatable), they are choosing to make a personal, political, religious, and social statement that they are not on board with the idea that the union being celebrated is, in fact, a marriage at all.

A lot of other people have made this distinction. I hear the Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson make it all the time. (Here is an article I don’t fully endorse, but I think deserved more serious engagement than it received.)

But even plenty of mainstream, pro-LGBT liberals accept social conservatives’ religious liberty arguments.

Consider Jonathan Rauch, who wrote in The Advocate:

We should not try to use law or social coercion to shut them up or force them to repudiate their views, and we should reserve extreme rhetoric for extreme cases. If they want to turn their backs on same-sex weddings or claim that homosexuality is a sin or a disease, well, let them. The real point of the gay rights movement is not just to secure equality for homosexuals; it is to maximize all Americans’ freedom to be true to themselves—the freedom we were denied. The last thing a movement of former pariahs should seek is to inflict the same agony on someone else.

Andrew Sullivan has consistently made similar points.

I would never want to coerce any fundamentalist to provide services for my wedding – or anything else for that matter – if it made them in any way uncomfortable. The idea of suing these businesses to force them to provide services they are clearly uncomfortable providing is anathema to me. I think it should be repellent to the gay rights movement as well.

[…]

In a free and live-and-let-live society, we should give them space. As long as our government is not discriminating against us, we should be tolerant of prejudice as long as it does not truly hurt us. And finding another florist may be a bother, and even upsetting, as one reader expressed so well. But we can surely handle it. And should.

Note how generous and compassionate these two gay men are to their opponents. “Rauch wants to maximize all Americans’ freedom to be true to themselves.” Sullivan does not want to make those who oppose him uncomfortable.

No one is arguing that businesses be allowed to refuse gay customers. The parallel to Jim Crow is bonkers, as though Pope Francis is no better a man than George Wallace was. We are talking about certain instances — in this case, weddings — in which a business activity might trouble someone’s conscience. This is not carte blanche discrimination.

Comparing Baronelle Stutzman to a vicious racist is intellectually lazy and just plain wrong.

 

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