Religious liberty is a deeply radical concept. It was at this country’s founding and it hasn’t become less so. Preserving it has always been a full-time battle. But it’s important, because religion is at the core of people’s identity. A government that tramples religious liberty is not a government that protects economic freedom. It’s certainly not a government that protects conscience rights. A government that tramples religious liberty does not have expansive press freedoms. Can you think of one country with a narrow view of religious liberty but an expansive view of economic freedom, freedom of association, press freedoms or free speech rights? One?
All that’s left to decide is the terms of surrender that will be dictated to conservatives, says Ross Douthat. He says there were two scenarios that might have played out. In the first, after same-sex marriage was achieved, the culture would have settled down, and gays would have gone about their business getting married and divorced like everybody else, and things would have returned to normal. In the second, gay partisans and their supporters would have put constant pressure on any holdouts or pockets of resistance, attempting to crush any opposition. Excerpt:
In the past, this constant-pressure scenario has seemed the less-likely one, since Americans are better at agreeing to disagree than the culture war would suggest. But it feels a little bit more likely after last week’s “debate” in Arizona, over a bill that was designed to clarify whether existing religious freedom protections can be invoked by defendants like the florist or the photographer.
If you don’t recognize my description of the bill, then you probably followed the press coverage, which was mendacious and hysterical — evincing no familiarity with the legal issues, and endlessly parroting the line that the bill would institute “Jim Crow” for gays. (Never mind that in Arizona it’s currently legal to discriminate based on sexual orientation — and mass discrimination isn’t exactly breaking out.) Allegedly sensible centrists compared the bill’s supporters to segregationist politicians, liberals invoked the Bob Jones precedent to dismiss religious-liberty concerns, and Republican politicians behaved as though the law had been written by David Duke.
What makes this response particularly instructive is that such bills have been seen, in the past, as a way for religious conservatives to negotiate surrender — to accept same-sex marriage’s inevitability while carving out protections for dissent. But now, apparently, the official line is that you bigots don’t get to negotiate anymore.
Of course. We will hear how all of this would have been different if only SSM opponents had done this, that, or the other thing in the past. Don’t believe it. Had the country embraced civil unions in 2004, for example, gay activists would have done exactly what they did in California, which did embrace civil unions: sue for full marriage recognition. This was always how it was going to end. I’ve been saying for at least five years that we conservatives had better focus on trying to carve out some religious liberty protections for ourselves, but that was a futile task too, amid the hysteria of this cultural climate. Now that the goal of legal same-sex marriage from coast to coast is clearly in sight, the fight will turn to demonizing any remaining resistance from religious dissenters, who must not be allowed any quarter. You can bet on it. Douthat concludes: