At this point in our nation’s history — indeed at this point in the history of Western Civilization — it has become quite apparent that the defenders of natural marriage have lost the argument over gay marriage, at least for the foreseeable future. Last summer, the Supreme Court overturned the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA. Since then, lower federal courts encompassing states from Virginia to Texas have been quick to follow suit, and it now seems like only a matter of time before gay marriage becomes a legal requirement in all 50 states.
I mention this not because I support gay marriage. In fact, I’m a staunch defender of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and I believe the legal recognition of gay marriage will only further sever the institution of marriage from children, which will have dire consequences for society. My intent here, however, is not to argue at length against gay marriage. My intent is to provide some thoughts on the spirit in which both sides of the debate might proceed now that legal recognition of gay marriage throughout the United States is all but inevitable — the spirit of tolerance.
To those who believe gay marriage is both contrary to nature and bad for society: I pray we will not grow dour or despondent or, worse yet, direct bitterness toward those with whom we disagree. The best way to protect our families and larger communities from what we believe will be the harmful effects of the legal recognition of gay marriage is to live out our own call to family life even more fully. We should be generously open to children, so as to counteract the notion that marriage is solely about the romantic attachment of adults. We should instill in our children a firm understanding of right and wrong. And above all, we should witness for them how to love people from all walks of life, even when — especially when — we disagree with particular aspects of their lifestyle.
To those who rejoice in the steady march of gay marriage across our land: I entreat you to recognize the sincerity and heartfelt belief of those with whom you disagree. For the vast majority of us, our opposition to gay marriage is not rooted in hatred; it’s rooted in an age-old understanding of the complementarity of the sexes and the supreme importance of moms and dads for raising children. Most of us have acquired this understanding, at least in part, from our Judeo-Christian religious traditions, but we believe it is just as accessible through reason alone. And above all, most of us refuse to view our fellow human beings through the narrow lens of their sexual inclinations. For this we should hardly be called bigots or homophobes, a label so blanketly and unfairly applied in many cases as to suggest the kind of intolerance gay marriage supporters claim to oppose.
To those in seats of power in governors’ mansions and statehouses around the country, especially right here in the great state of Ohio: regardless of your view of gay marriage, you must not turn a blind eye to the increasing threats to religious liberty and freedom of conscience posed, in part, by the fast-approaching introduction of gay marriage in every state in the union. Should a Christian violinist, for instance, be required to render his or her services to a gay couple hosting an event entirely unrelated to gay marriage? In a tolerant society, I believe the answer is an emphatic yes. But should that same violinist be forced to play at the couple’s gay wedding — in other words, to participate in the celebration of their union? In a tolerant society, I believe the answer is a just-as-emphatic no.
Something must be done to safeguard businesses and individuals from being forced to violate their most deeply held beliefs, whether secular or religious. The state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Act, recently vetoed in Arizona and withdrawn from consideration by lawmakers in Ohio, was one possible measure. There are certainly others that can and should be taken.
It’s a wonderful thing that we live in a country that requires tolerance for all people and points of view. But we must be ever vigilant — especially in the dawning of the age of gay marriage — that compulsory tolerance doesn’t shade into compulsory celebration. After all, demanding the universal embrace of a particular lifestyle or point of view would be highly intolerant indeed.
Brendan Shea lives in London, Ohio . He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.