Social Conservatives on Anti-Gay Discrimination: Incoherent or Just Cowardly?

Gays present mainstream social conservatives with a great dilemma, because they try to hold such contradictory positions. For instance

  • They want to oppose laws outlawing anti-gay discrimination by using the rhetoric of liberty, so they don’t look like obvious anti-gay bigots (we’re talking mainstream so-cons, of course).

And

  • They want to avoid the PR disaster of looking like they oppose laws outlawing racial discrimination.

But this trips them up, because to achieve the first goal, they often don’t talk about gays at all. They use code words like religious freedom and freedom of association. But that makes them run afoul of their second goal, as I recently summarized in this graphic:
cant have both

You can see this conflict in Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation. Now that NOM is nominal force in the culture wars (thanks, Richard Rush!), I pay them less attention and focus it more on Ryan, who represents an influential conservative think tank and edits an intellectual mouthpiece, The Public Discourse.

Ryan has tripped up on this contradiction before, and recently he’s just made it worse. To refresh your memory, Ryan tweeted a while back that you have no right to have anyone bake you a wedding cake.”  

Someone reasonably asked, “Bakeries aren’t able to turn away interracial couples. Why is anti-gay discrimination more acceptable?” And Ryan answered, “racism is wrong. Marriage has nothing to do with keeping the races apart. Marriage is about uniting male and female.”

The problem is that many racists would disagree, and disagree on religious grounds. This forces one to conclude that Ryan is only concerned with freedom for religious beliefs that he approves of, which isn’t religious freedom at all, but a theocracy with Ryan in charge.

Lately, he’s had to alter his message. He wrote a long, long post on 6 steps for moving forward in the battle against our rights; step 2 is “Defend our form of government and our liberties.” He starts with the familiar refrain:

Indeed, a regime of free association, free contracts, free speech, and free exercise of religion should protect citizens’ rights to live according to their beliefs about marriage…

Private actors should be free to make reasonable judgments and distinctions — including reasonable moral judgments and distinctions — in their economic activities. Not every florist need provide wedding arrangements for every ceremony. Not every photographer need capture every first kiss. Competitive markets can best harmonize a range of values that citizens hold. And there is no need for government to try to force every photographer and every florist to participate in every marriage-related event.

Of course, if you take this not as a statement about same-sex marriage in particular, but about policy decisions in general, Ryan has put forth an argument for allowing business to turn away interracial couples.

We know how Ryan would answer that (“racism is wrong!”) and I imagine he might try to get around my accusations of theocracy and selective religious freedom by claiming he can prove racists are wrong while opponents of marriage equality are right, and that the government has no need to protect the wrong’uns. This was the great goal of his What is Marriage? project with Robert George, and of course we know that failed.

Even if it had succeeded, though, Ryan would still have to give up his but racism is wrong! strategy. In the wake of the Hobby Lobby, Ryan wrote that religious freedom must include all religious beliefs, even if they are wrong — even if they are, in his words, “unfounded, flawed, implausible, or downright silly.” He sums up his thoughts by saying:

The right to religious freedom is for everyone, not just for those with the “right” beliefs.

And now he’s back in the awkward position of opposing bans on discriminating against interracial couples. He can’t even claim a compelling public interest for those bans — not when he’s written, “there is no need for government to try to force every photographer and every florist to participate in every marriage-related event.” 

He’s playing intellectual whack-a-mole: every time he solves one problem he creates another. He can’t synthesize these views into a coherent whole. They only make sense piecemeal. If I ever got to debate him, I imagine it going like this:

Ryan: No one should be forced to serve someone against their conscience!

Me: So businesses should be able to turn away interracial couples?

Ryan: No, because racism is wrong!

Me: So you only support religious freedom for views you agree with?

Ryan: No! Religious freedom protects even views that are wrong.

Me: So businesses should be able to turn away interracial couples?

Ryan: No, because racism is wrong!

Me: So you only support religious freedom for views you agree with?

Ryan: No! …

And so on, ad infinitum. 

You might be wondering what this has to do with Hobby Lobby. Ryan supports that decision, of course, though it’s come under fire because many scientists have argued the contraceptives Hobby Lobby objected to as abortifacients aren’t abortifacients at all. Ryan obviously wants to avoid arguing on shaky scientific ground, so he has to abandon his but racism is wrong! approach in favor of religious freedom protects even wrong beliefs. 

So that leaves Ryan and “principled” social conservatives in a bad spot. They want to oppose protections for LGBT folk, they want to sound like advocates of freedom rather than anti-gay bigots, and they want to support civil rights for blacks and other select minorities. But they can’t have it all, and it’s our job to let people know it. It’s hard to know whether they’re sincere in all these positions or just politicking; whether they’re incoherent or just too cowardly to be consistent. Either way, their arguments simply knock each other down.

In the next few days I’ll look at the other planks of Ryan’s plan for pulling back our rights.  Spoiler alert: They don’t impress.

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7 comments to Social Conservatives on Anti-Gay Discrimination: Incoherent or Just Cowardly?

  • 1
    Regan DuCasse says:

    I remember when you asked why should gay people be subjected to invisible religious tests?

    And you’d be right about that. Not just who these tests are directed towards, but the expectation that if you only use one subject to test in your business, and not the ENTIRE of your patronage, then you are in fact discriminating on the basis of the customer’s sexual orientation as gay, NOT their sexual MORALITY.
    Religious freedom, as specious as the anti gay try to define it, could mean a Muslim (conducting their own invisible religious test), could refuse service to apostates, women dressed immodestly (according to their religion anyway), and so on.
    But a Muslim THAT consistent with his religious rejections of potential customers, won’t have many.

  • 2
    cmh says:

    does this work?

  • 3
    robtish says:

    Looks like it.

  • 4
    Mark C. says:

    Speaking of the Hobby Lobby decision, it’s amazing what kinds of things religious groups are trying to justify with it.

    I just wonder when SCOTUS is going to decide that corporations also have the right to vote and to bear arms.

  • 5
    John Howard says:

    These people aren’t social conservatives, they are libertarians pretending to be social conservatives, funded by the Kochtopus and gagged by their funding contracts.

    It’s easy to catch them in contradictions like you did regarding What Is Marriage logically meaning siblings should be able to marry, because their mission is to separate conception rights from marriage and prevent any bans on genetic engineering or laws that preserve the conception rights of marriage. Basically, their mission is to drown out my argument and eventually lose the marriage debate, coming away instead with victory in the form of religious freedom to do whatever transhumanist nutso things they want to do and a weakened federal government that can’t stop them.

    Please ask Ryan and Joe LaRue and virtually everyone else supposedly arguing for traditional marriage if they think marriages should have a right to procreate offspring, and if they think people have a right to attempt to procreate with someone of the same sex. Would you be surprised that they agree with you about these things? They oppose the two laws of the Natural Marriage and Reproduction Act I am pushing. It seems to me to be a criminal treasonous conspiracy that needs to be exposed and defeated.

  • 6

    […] about his views on religious freedom, racial discrimination, and anti-gay discrimination — a contradictory mess that he and his colleagues have failed to sort into a coherent […]

  • 7

    […] about his views on religious freedom, racial discrimination, and anti-gay discrimination — a contradictory mess that he and his colleagues have failed to sort into a coherent […]

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