Last week, I promised to air more reader opinions in the debate about whether all gay-marriage opponents are "bigots" who ought to be stigmatized and punished for their beliefs. In previous items, I've criticized the ouster of Mozilla's CEO as a betrayal of liberal values, noted the inaccuracy of comparing all gay-marriage opponents to racists, and published reader correspondence from a 23-year-old orthodox Christian. Tomorrow, I'll publish a bunch of reader takes from all sides of the conversation.
For now, I want to highlight one impassioned and thoughtful dissent.
Like me, Adam Hersh is a fervent proponent of gay marriage. Unlike me, he believes it isn't enough to critique the arguments of gay-marriage opponents in an effort to persuade them and others that they're wrong. He favors stigma and punishment too. He writes:
I'm a long-time reader, occasional commenter, and big fan of your writing. I also happen to be gay. I've been closely following your series of posts on stigmatizing opposition to same-sex marriage, because I strongly believe in the value of such a stigma, and I want to see the strongest argument against my position—something you can be counted on to provide. I sympathize with your support for pluralism and respect for orthodox Christian beliefs, but there's a perspective that I think is missing from your posts, and one that is perhaps difficult to understand if you are not gay yourself. For me this perspective is the decisive argument in favor of calling out people like Brendan Eich, and on the off-chance you decide to read this email, I hope I do it some justice.
Growing up gay, you are constantly told—implicitly and explicitly—that you are weird, weak, and wrong. This is true even in my generation, which is undoubtedly the most progressive in American history on gay issues. Debates are held on the national level about whether you are fit to be a pro athlete, or a Boy Scout, or a parent. Politicians fight hard for the right of a business owner to turn you away. The word faggot, a word that says you are pathetic and contemptible, is used as an all-purpose insult. We're getting better, in all these areas. But to be gay is still to be kept apart from the institutions of society in myriad ways.
And that, at least for me, is what the same-sex marriage fight is about. Forget the tax benefits and the visitation rights, forget the legal recognition of a committed relationship, forget even the right to publicly acknowledge the love one has for another person. The fight for gay marriage is a fight to be recognized as a normal member of society. Every now and then, in school or at home or with friends, kids talk about how they see their future family: how many children they'd want, what their wedding would be like, what kind of person they'd want to marry. Up until very recently, no gay kid could answer those questions with any confidence. In a lot of places in America, they still can't.
Those are the stakes.
A quick interjection. At first, the reader treats "calling out people like Brendan Eich" as if it is part of our disagreement. In fact, I favor "calling out" opponents of gay marriage: I want their position to be forcefully, persuasively, exhaustively critiqued and rebutted, over and over, until gay marriage is legal not just everywhere in America, but everywhere. Condemning someone's politics is fine. Punishing them outside politics is objectionable.