Radioactive Traditionalism

Strange things happen when I get out of bed before 9 AM on a Saturday. For example, today I read a blog entry by Ross Don’tDoThat, in which he speaks to Enforcers of Tradition who are concerned about how hard they will lose the battle over same-sex marriage.

I mostly agree with these sentiments, but I do have one flicker of doubt about them. Unless something dramatic changes in the drift of public opinion, the future of religious liberty on these issues is going to depend in part on the magnanimity of gay marriage supporters — the extent to which they are content with political, legal and cultural victories that leave the traditional view of marriage as a minority perspective with some modest purchase in civil society, versus the extent to which they decide to use every possible lever to make traditionalism as radioactive in the America of 2025 as white supremacism or anti-Semitism are today. And I can imagine a scenario in which a more drawn-out and federalist march to “marriage equality in 50 states,” with a large number of (mostly southern) states hewing to the older definition for much longer than the five years that gay marriage advocates currently anticipate, ends up encouraging a more scorched-earth approach to this battle, with less tolerance for the shrinking population of holdouts, and a more punitive, “they’re getting what they deserve” attitude toward traditionalist religious bodies in particular. If religious conservatives are, in effect, negotiating the terms of their surrender, it’s at least possible that those negotiations would go better if they were conducted right now, in the wake of a Roe v. Wade-style Supreme Court ruling, rather than in a future where the bloc of Americans opposed to gay marriage has shrunk from the current 44 percent to 30 percent or 25 percent, and the incentives for liberals to be magnanimous in victory have shrunk apace as well.

Teal Deer translation: Mr. Douthat’s fellow travelers are concerned that the longer the battle over marriage equality rages on,  the more the “family values” contingent will be seen as contemptible bigots on par with white supremacists and Jew-haters. They sense themselves to be at the mercy of liberal magnanimity.

I can see how they would be nervous, as the traditionalist faction has long been extremely non-magnanimous towards sexual minorities and their families.

I’m not exactly sure what they are afraid will happen if we have to fight too long and hard for the right to marriage equality in all fifty states. Pastors will not be dragged out of their pulpits. Traditionalist churches will not be shut down. We’re not going to plant equality signs on the lawns of conservative households and set them on fire in the night. Children of conservative parents will not be bullied at school the way LGBT children are bullied now. We don’t even intend to coerce traditionalist houses of worship to officiate same-sex weddings. Couples want to be married by officiants who don’t hate them. It is not in any couple’s interests to say their vows in front of a pastor who would rather be anywhere else.

No matter what happens at the end of this fight, the consequences for Enforcers of Tradition will not be nearly as dire as the actual, real-life persecution that’s been inflicted on sexual minorities for decades just for being who they are.

With that in mind, if the Enforcers of Tradition want us liberals to be magnanimous in victory, perhaps they could start by showing a bit of magnanimity themselves. If “tradition” is used to mean hate and persecution, then it deserves to become radioactive.