Ross Douthat has penned what I believe to be the most insightful analysis of what has happened in our country over the last week. He correctly observes that the debate over gay marriage in our country is all but over. Despite some regional holdouts, majority public opinion has moved in favor of recognizing gay marriage. And it’s only a matter of time before a majority of the holdouts—primarily in the South—move that way as well. The Supreme Court’s Windsor decision last summer ensures that legal gay marriage in all fifty states is a fait accompli at this point.
The only thing that remains is for traditional marriage supporters to negotiate the terms of our surrender and to try and carve out as many religious liberty protections as possible as we move decisively into a cultural minority. One outcome might be the one suggested by Andrew Sullivan—that gay marriage supporters would afford us conscience protections and not coerce us into affirming what our conscience condemns. But Douthat says that the debate about the Arizona bill last week reveals that another outcome is more likely. He writes:
But there’s another possibility, in which the oft-invoked analogy between opposition to gay marriage and support for segregation in the 1960s South is pushed to its logical public-policy conclusion. In this scenario, the unwilling photographer or caterer would be treated like the proprietor of a segregated lunch counter, and face fines or lose his business — which is the intent of recent legal actions against a wedding photographer in New Mexico, a florist in Washington State, and a baker in Colorado.
Meanwhile, pressure would be brought to bear wherever the religious subculture brushed up against state power. Religious-affiliated adoption agencies would be closed if they declined to place children with same-sex couples. (This has happened in Massachusetts and Illinois.) Organizations and businesses that promoted the older definition of marriage would face constant procedural harassment, along the lines suggested by the mayors who battled with Chick-fil-A. And, eventually, religious schools and colleges would receive the same treatment as racist holdouts like Bob Jones University, losing access to public funds and seeing their tax-exempt status revoked.
Douthat is right. What unfolded last week reveals that this latter scenario is the most likely outcome. Gay activists and gay marriage supporters seem to have very little interest in a live-and-let-live diversity of opinion on the issue of marriage. They are making sure that the government imposes coercive sanctions on anyone who fails to affirm the moral goodness of gay unions. As last week revealed, the press has been happily passing along the propaganda of gay marriage supporters without any thoughtful consideration of the other side of the argument. They are backing us into a corner.
Douthat has captured in one column what I have been trying to say over a week of blog posts about this issue. We are watching a moral revolution unfold before our very eyes, and traditional marriage supporters are at the short end of the stick. There is very little that we can do about it but wait to see what terms of surrender will be imposed upon us by the victors.
If this sounds grave, good. I mean it to be. We are not playing games here. There will be real consequences for all of us before this is finished. If you are a Christian and you don’t care about this issue, you should know that very soon you will be made to care. It seems that there will be no middle ground or fence for you to straddle.
There is one item that I would take issue with in Douthat’s analysis, and I don’t believe it to be a small point. He writes:
So being marginalized, being sued, losing tax-exempt status — this will be uncomfortable, but we should keep perspective and remember our sins, and nobody should call it persecution.
I understand the point that he is trying to make here. We have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood as many Christians have in other parts of the world (Heb. 12:4). We should acknowledge that and be grateful that the wheels haven’t totally come off yet. Nevertheless, I think it is wrong to eschew the label “persecution.” Persecution around the world exists along a continuum. At one end is insult, and at the other end is injury. But make no mistake. Both ends are on the same continuum. The society that sanctions the insult will eventually perpetrate injury as well. It is only a matter of time. It’s a difference in degree, not in kind (Matt. 5:21-26).
For Christians, this is not a time for hand-wringing or for panic. Our God is in the heavens, and He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3; 135:6). But it is a time to gird up your loins and act like a man (1 Kings 2:1; 1 Cor. 16:13; 1 Pet. 1:13). We are entering a time when there will be some who think that they are offering service to God as they turn us over to the coercive power of the state (John 16:2). We are about to find out who is for real and who is for fake. For my part, I’m praying for perseverance in the face of coming trials. And I will be praying it for you as well.