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Posts for July, 2014

Ryan Anderson on Anti-Gay Discrimination: The Contradictions Continue

Rob Tisinai

July 31st, 2014

I had a long, intense twitter exchange with Ryan Anderson! I have to thank Michelangelo Signorile — he started the conversation and I jumped in. I used it as a chance to ask Ryan 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 argument.

Let me recap their dilemma and the resulting incoherence. They oppose discrimination laws protecting gays, but they can’t appear anti-gay, because policy motivated by animus is vulnerable to a court challenge. Instead they speak of “religious freedom” and the principle that no one should have to serve a customer in violation of their beliefs. However, they don’t apply this principle when it comes to race; that would make them pariahs to the mainstream public. They explain this away by saying racism is wrong, but this leaves them open to the charge that they only want to protect the religious freedom of those they agree with, a position they fiercely reject.

It’s a logical swamp.

In our twitter exchange Ryan tried a different justification: that religious liberty is not an absolute right, but must be weighed against other measures of the common good. He directed me to his statement:

Legislators should enact commonsense religious liberty protections that would prevent the imposition of substantial burdens on sincere religious beliefs unless the government proves that imposing such a burden is necessary to advance a compelling government interest (and does so by the least intrusive or restrictive means).

Such religious liberty protections would not justify blanket discrimination, as some wrongly claim. For example, one does not hear of any sincere religious beliefs that would lead a pharmacist to refuse to dispense antibiotics to any patients. Furthermore, it has long been recognized that the government has a “compelling interest” in protecting public health by combating communicable diseases.

That’s reasonable. But it presents Ryan with a couple problems. First, it contradicts what he wrote elsewhere:

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.

There’s nothing in that piece about balancing religious freedom against the common good. I do understand that free exercise of religion should protect citizens’ rights to live according to their beliefs about marriage is more bumper-sticker-catchy than: free exercise of religion should protect citizens’ rights to live according to their beliefs about marriage, except for when it shouldn’t, and sometimes it shouldn’t, though sometimes it should, and it, well, it — it depends on a bunch of factors that I won’t go into now.<

Except that Ryan isn't writing for bumper stickers. He's making a lengthy argument, one that doesn't align with his other writings.

A second problem is that he merely begs the question, Why does the “common good” override religious liberty when it comes to discrimination based on race but not when based on sexual orientation?

That’s a tricky question. You can’t answer, Because gays are bad! — that lands you in the animus trap, with your law overturned in the court. Instead, Ryan sent me to this:

Today’s debates about religious liberty and marriage are profoundly different [from debates about interracial marriage]. First, as argued above, marriage as the union of man and woman is a reasonable position; bans on interracial marriage were not. Second, as also argued above, marriage as the union of man and woman is witnessed to repeatedly in the Bible; prohibitions on interracial marriage were not.

But these two points are irrelevant, of course, even according to Ryan’s own standards. As he wrote in this piece:

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

So it doesn’t matter whether your racist religious views are reasonable or Biblically sound, because religious freedom is also for the wrong. It’s for everyone.

But things really go awry with his next point:

Third, to be argued below, while interracial marriage bans were clearly part of a wider system of oppression, beliefs about marriage as the union of male and female are not.

But it’s not “argued below.” Or rather, he does argue the point about interracial marriage bans, but never establishes the part about same-sex marriage. Probably because he can’t — probably because it isn’t true.

Our history of blacklisting, imprisonment, official exclusion from federal employment, and lobotomization obviously indicate a history of oppression. Granted, excluding same-sex couples from marriage was not originally a tool of that system; it was the result. Gays were seen as such sick and twisted perverts that few thought about giving us marriage rights. Still, it was part of that system, and it did indeed become a tool of oppression with DOMA and the various state constitutional amendments designed to “protect” marriage from those who don’t deserve it and to express moral disapproval of us deviants.

Frankly, it’s astonishing that Ryan attempts this argument — and that he doesn’t even make a token effort to justify it.

So now we’re back where we started. Ryan still hasn’t explained why religious liberty requires that bakers be free to turn away same-sex couples but not interracial couples, even if their religion condemns them. His reasoning is still an incoherent mess. All he’s done is add yet another layer of contradiction.

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

Rob Tisinai

July 23rd, 2014

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 bothYou 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.