Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Douthat's Strange Lament

Ross Douthat has a column in the New York Times today, describing what he sees as the rout of the anti-gay-marriage forces in American politics and culture.  It's an annoying column, although the second-to-last paragraph is somewhat gracious:
I am being descriptive here, rather than self-pitying. Christians had plenty of opportunities — thousands of years’ worth — to treat gay people with real charity, and far too often chose intolerance. (And still do, in many instances and places.) So being marginalized, being sued, losing tax-exempt status — this will be uncomfortable, but we should keep perspective and remember our sins, and nobody should call it persecution.
But only somewhat gracious, because Douthat is missing something rather important here, something that I don't think I've ever seen him acknowledge.  Gay marriage proponents don't support gay marriage because they like gay people and think that gay marriage would be a nice thing to have.  Gay marriage proponents, and supporters of gay equality generally, see this as a fundamental matter of human dignity, something that should be treated as a basic right.  I am reminded of an anecdote from WWII-era Denmark:
Such general support across Danish society seems to have empowered the Jews of Copenhagen. When the Gestapo came to search the Jewish community’s offices in September 1943, the community treasurer, Axel Hertz, did not hesitate to ask the intruders, “By what right do you come here?” The German in charge replied, quite candidly: “By the right of the stronger.” And Hertz retorted: “That is no good right.” Jews in Denmark behaved like rights-bearers, not like victims in search of compassion. And they were not wrong: their feeling of membership in the Danish polity had a basis in its political culture.
Rights-bearers.  Not victims in search of compassion.  Not a marginalized minority in search of Douthat's "real charity."  Douthat's attitude is reminiscent of David Brooks's ridiculous column bemoaning the legalization of marijuana.  Brooks didn't even think it necessary to argue that the problems with marijuana consumption might justify the huge cost of pursuing, arresting, prosecuting, and imprisoning people—that is, ruining their lives!—for trafficking in a mostly harmless drug.  Similarly with Douthat:  never (as far as I know) has he adduced any rationale that could possibly justify treating homosexuals as non-rights-bearers, people who deserve charity but do not deserve full participation as equals in our society.  It's a bizarre and telling omission.  I happen to be more sympathetic than most liberals to claims of religious liberty and personal conscience, which are currently being litigated in the courts and debated in the legislatures.  But these debates should start with the obvious background assumption:  gay people are full citizens, endowed with the same rights as everyone else, and not reliant on anyone's charity or goodwill for the vindication of those rights.


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