The question I'd ask those who want to use non-state means to punish mom-and-pop businesses that decline to cater gay weddings is what, exactly, their notion of a fair punishment is. Nearly every supporter of gay marriage is on board with efforts to publicly tell people that their position is wrongheaded–I've participated in efforts like that for years and insist that respectful critique and persuasion is more effective than shaming. What about other approaches? If their Yelp rating goes down by a star does the punishment fit the "crime"? Is there a financial loss at which social pressure goes from appropriate to too much? How about putting them out of business? Digital mobs insulting them and their children? Email and phone threats from anonymous Internet users? If you think that any of those go too far have you spoken up against the people using those tactics?
(If not, is it because you're afraid they might turn on you?)
A relatively big digital mob has been attacking this powerless family in rural Indiana,** but I don't get the sense that its participants have reflected on or even thought of these questions. I don't think they recognize how ugly, intolerant and extreme their actions appear or the effect they'll have on Americans beyond the mainstream media, or that their vitriolic shaming these people has ultimately made them into martyrs. I fear that a backlash against their tactics will weaken support for the better angels of the gay rights movement at a time when more progress needs to be made, and that they're turning traditionalists into a fearful, alienated minority with a posture of defensiveness that closes them off to persuasion.
And that's a shame.
The religious impulse to shy away from even the most tangential interaction with gay weddings can be met with extremely powerful and persuasive counterarguments so long as we're operating in the realm of reason rather than coercion–so long as we're more interested in persuading than shaming or claiming scalps. Thanks to past persuasion, evangelicals are already evolving on this issue, as David Brooks points out, observing that "many young evangelicals understand that their faith should not be defined by this issue. If orthodox Christians are suddenly written out of polite society as modern-day Bull Connors, this would only halt progress, polarize the debate and lead to a bloody war of all against all."
As an example of a persuader, consider my colleague Jonathan Rauch, who advises the faithful that while they might mean "just leave us alone," others hear, "what we want most is to discriminate against you," a needlessly alienating message when there is "a missionary tradition of engagement and education, of resolutely and even cheerfully going out into an often uncomprehending world, rather than staying home with the shutters closed." He adds, "In this alternative tradition, a Christian photographer might see a same-sex wedding as an opportunity to engage and interact: a chance, perhaps, to explain why the service will be provided, but with a moral caveat or a prayer. Not every gay customer would welcome such a conversation, but it sure beats having the door slammed in your face." The best way forward for all sides is to love one another, or at least to act as though we do.