Are ssm advocates who reject the way Brendon Eich was treated condescending?

5 May

From Anderson and George:

Historically and across cultures, marriage has been the institution that unites a man and woman as husband and wife to be father and mother to children born of their union, providing their offspring with the distinctive contributions of paternal and maternal care and influence. That understanding of marriage shaped its structuring norms, including the norm of sexual complementarity that has been found always and everywhere.

Yesterday this understanding of marriage was common sense; today it is dangerous heresy to an ever-more Inquisitorial cultural elite: Support for marriage as a male-female union has swiftly become, among the mandarins of culture, the most hated position on the most heated question.

In April, more than 50 scholars and leaders, all self-identified same-sex marriage supporters, called their allies to higher moral ground. Prompted by the bullying of Brendan Eich and his resignation as CEO of Mozilla for his 2008 donation to California’s Proposition 8 campaign, they wrote to decry the “deeply illiberal impulse” to “punish rather than to criticize or to persuade” political dissenters. Because “opposition to gay marriage” can be “expressed respectfully,” they urged, it should not be “a punishable offense.” No one should lose a job for “holding a wrong opinion.” Trying to purge the workplace or the public square of dissent is, as they see it, political “oppress[ion].”

As supporters of marriage as the union of husband and wife, we applaud the signatories’ support for a free society. In any healthy civic order, citizens will be able to disagree with each other even about important matters without intimidation and recrimination. The right to dissent will be honored and those who express dissent will be respected not bullied into submission or silence. We thank the signatories of “Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent” for their defense of civility.

We also agree with them that the future of marriage needs to be a matter of robust public debate. That’s why it’s important for these and other supporters of same-sex marriage — indeed for all Americans — to engage the serious arguments in this debate.

We write to make three points.

1. It is rational to support marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and supporters of same-sex marriage should stand up and say so, condemning attempts to disparage belief in marriage as a conjugal partnership as irrational — the moral and intellectual equivalent of racism, misogyny, and other forms of bigotry.

The statement issued last month falls short of such a declaration, lacking a clear acknowledgment that those with the contrary view hold a rationally defensible position.

The distinguished political theorist Peter Berkowitz faulted the authors of the statement for precisely this failure:

The signatories of “Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent” do not go so far as to acknowledge the merit in arguments against same-sex marriage. … their public statement indicates that in their view their opponents have little to say that is reasonable. Unwavering in their commitment to same-sex marriage, they imply that those who disagree are at best benighted, ignorant, or confused.

Indeed, by suggesting that support for marriage as a union of husband and wife is simply opposition to the cause of “gay equality,” the signatories seem to share — and certainly say nothing to reject — the idea that opposition cannot be rational; that only ignorance or animus could motivate it; that it is ultimately a matter of bigotry.

Yet these are precisely the false and pernicious ideas that motivated the persecutors of Brendan Eich.

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