A Manifesto for the Liberal Wing of the Gay-Equality Movement

Fifty-eight signatories argued that punishing same-sex-marriage opponents constitutes "a betrayal of the movement’s deepest and most humane values."

Almost 60 prominent supporters of same-sex marriage published a statement Tuesday titled, "Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent: Why We Must Have Both." The signatories include gays and straights who've labored for years to secure marriage equality and who regard a liberal approach to public discourse as core to their success. Hence their concern that "recent events, including the resignation of the CEO of Mozilla under pressure because of an anti-same-sex- marriage donation he made in 2008, signal an eagerness by some supporters of same-sex marriage to punish rather than to criticize or to persuade those who disagree."

The statement declares that ascendant impulse "deeply illiberal ... wrong in principle and poor as politics," and argues that it is a betrayal of the gay-equality movement:

Sustaining a liberal society demands a culture that welcomes robust debate, vigorous political advocacy, and a 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 freedom—not just legal but social—to express even very unpopular views is the engine that propelled the gay-rights movement from its birth against almost hopeless odds two generations ago. A culture of free speech created the social space for us to criticize and demolish the arguments against gay marriage and LGBT equality. For us and our advocates to turn against that culture now would be a betrayal of the movement’s deepest and most humane values.

Acknowledging that opposition to gay marriage can be expressed hatefully, the statement argues that it can also be expressed respectfully, and is not, itself, harm or hate. "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," it notes. "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."

For a contrary view, see J. Bryan Lowder, who argues at Slate that gays participating in the fight for equality "reserve the right to use the recent miracle of gradually improving public and corporate opinion to get a little nonviolent justice, even a little retributive succor, when we can. All’s fair in love and war, and until our love is no longer the subject of debate, reasonable or otherwise, this war isn’t over."

Readers who've followed my recent series of posts on this subject know that I align with the 58 signatories. Beyond the substantive arguments they make, their effort is noteworthy insofar as it refutes the subset of conservatives who've caricatured the whole gay-rights movement as illiberal in the wake of the Eich resignation, as well as the subset of progressive gay-rights supporters who misleadingly write as if gays and their allies largely agree that punishing of gay-marriage opponents is desirable. In fact, opinion on this subject is extraordinarily diverse, and it wouldn't surprise me if the statement above reflects the values of a majority of gay-marriage proponents as well as a majority of gays.

The whole statement and its signatories is here. (And if it needs to be said, we're talking liberal in the "small-l" sense. These folks vary in their American spectrum affiliations.)

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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