Same-Sex Marriage Backers Debate Whether Traditional-Marriage-Only Supporters Should Have a Voice

How should society treat those who only support traditional marriage? Same-sex marriage supporters are debating this question. Some want to punish those who disagree with them while others say traditonal marriage supporters should have the freedom to disagree without being legally and socially ostracized. The Christian Post interviewed three people from different sides of this debate.

Little more than a month after Mozilla Firefox CEO Brendan Eich resigned, following a revelation that he had donated $1,000 to a 2008 campaign seeking to ban same-sex marriage in California, same-sex marriage supporters are actively debating whether supporters of traditional marriage should always be equated with hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.

A man is seen next to a Firefox logo at a Mozilla stand during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, February 28, 2013.
A man is seen next to a Firefox logo at a Mozilla stand during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, February 28, 2013. | (Photo: Reuters/Albert Gea)

Last week, over 50 academics and intellectuals published an op-ed entitled Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent: Why We Must Have Both, where they pledged support for gay marriage and but also for keeping the public square respectful towards those who disagree with their perspective.

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"Much of the rhetoric that emerged in the wake of the Eich incident showed a worrisome turn toward intolerance and puritanism among some supporters of gay equality—not in terms of formal legal sanction, to be sure, but in terms of abandonment of the core liberal values of debate and diversity," agreed its signatories, including popular liberal Catholic and openly gay blogger Andrew Sullivan, Will Saletan of, and members of both the progressive-leaning Brookings Institution and free-market-leaning American Enterprise Institute.

Not so says Zack Ford, editor of ThinkProgress LGBT. He authored a rebuttal to the editorial, saying that while he was a proponent of religious freedom, he believed Eich crossed the line when he attempted to "impose his religious beliefs about marriage into civic law."

"That's an overstep. That's taking your religious belief and imposing it on someone else," Ford, who is gay and an atheist, told The Christian Post. "... It doesn't really matter if he discriminated or not. It's a position that he's taken and acted on. It's not just that he opposes marriage equality — he's actively tried to limit the right for same-sex couples to marry."

An acceptable way for Eich to show his disapproval of same-sex marriage was "to not marry another person of the same-sex," Ford argued.

The signatories disagree, arguing "sustaining a liberal society" also includes the right to "vigorous political advocacy" for both sides while mantaining "decent respect for differing opinions."

"People must be allowed to be wrong in order to continually test what is right. We should criticize opposing views, not punish or suppress them," the signatories asserted. The signatories also argued that "opposition to gay marriage is not a punishable offense."

"We strongly believe that opposition to same-sex marriage is wrong, but the consequence of holding a wrong opinion should not be the loss of a job. Inflicting such consequences on others is sadly ironic in light of our movement's hard-won victory over a social order in which LGBT people were fired, harassed, and socially marginalized for holding unorthodox opinions," they stated.

When pressed by CP if there were other ways where individuals with views not supportive to same-sex marriage might be able to live out their convictions, Ford added, "I think there's a moment that we've reached where we're trying to decide how acceptable it is to oppose LGBT equality. Eich represents the idea that some people think it's okay to still oppose LGBT equality. And my position is, no, it's not. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation whether it's in marriage or employment or anything else is inexcusable. It's pure discrimination and there's no reason to leave room for it for religious purposes or otherwise."

"If you have a religious belief about what you should do in your church, that's perfectly fine. If you have a religious belief that you're trying to impose on what the government does, that's problematic," he added.

Andrew Walker, the director of policy studies at the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, suggested that, to some degree, how one defined marriage itself directly impacted on how willing one might be to extend religious liberty, and freedom of speech, to others.

"The assumption here is that the definition of marriage I'm offering is exclusively religious in nature. I think it's ultimately religious in nature but it isn't exclusively religious in nature. Marriage can be ascertained by virtue of natural law principles. There is an aspect that if they think marriage is solely based on a religious precept, and that religious precept is discriminatory, well then sure, they're not going to lend religious liberty to us," offered Walker.

"But then it becomes, what about the person who is a secularist but who believes in the natural law understanding of marriage? ... That person isn't arguing for religious liberty; they're arguing on the grounds of natural law and natural truth and the freedom of the conscience and freedom of speech. Ultimately freedom of religion and freedom of speech are intimately tied to one another. You exercise religion often through the means of speech," said Walker.

Jonathan Rauch, a senior fellow at the progressive Brookings Institution, who is gay, a signatory of the Real Clear Politics op-ed, and recent author of "Opposing Gay Marriage Doesn't Make You a Crypto-Racist," suggested that one of the reasons he may be more open to allowing those who do not support gay marriage to share their views may be generational.

"[Young gay people] didn't grow up in a world where it seemed natural to have discrimination against gay people. They grew up in a world where it seems strange and completely unfair," Rauch told CP.

Rauch, who is in his 50s, said that his own experiences of growing up gay increased his empathy and left him wishing that no one would be as maligned or marginalized as he had been.

"I grew up with horrible stuff every day, much of it emanating from the Christian community. We were fired from our jobs, arrested by the government, literally, we couldn't work for the government, we couldn't serve in the military ... but to me, it's important to remember what the gay rights movement really stands for, which is not just freedom for gay people to live our lives according to our identities and conscience, but freedom for all Americans to live their lives according to their conscience and identity," he said.

Rauch said that the LGBT community should have nothing to fear from hearing arguments which run contrary to their own convictions.

"From a gay point of view, there's an irony in Christians telling us that we need to be tolerant and not drive them out of the public square, when from our point of view for so many years that's exactly what they were trying to do to us and were successful for many, many years, but turnabout is not fair play."

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