I was wrong.
A couple of months ago I wrote in this space that I had two, seemingly conflicting beliefs: That gays ought to be able to get married. And that people whose consciences oppose gay marriage shouldn’t be required to offer services in support of those marriages.
The idea was to maximize freedom: To give both my gay friends and my conservative Christian friends a chance to live as well as possible. I was influenced by my upbringing in Kansas, among conservative Christians, people I believe to be good, people I still care about, but people with whom I disagree heartily on the topic of homosexuality and gay rights. It was an attempt at nuance. It was an attempt at balance. Freedom—as I have said a number of times—should not be a zero-sum thing.
You have probably heard by now about the bill before the Kansas Legislature. It would enshrine in state law the right of business, individuals, and even state employees refuse service—to discriminate—to gays and lesbians on the basis of the discriminator’s feelings about gay marriage.
When I suggested that conservatives ought to be able to refuse service, I naively thought it might take place in an atmosphere of, well, something like detente. Two opposed groups would agree to live and let live and not bring the force of law against each other. Apparently, it can’t work that way.
Seeing the right to discriminate enshrined in law—against this one group, and this one group only—carries a strong whiff of Jim Crow. Under that regime, society and the law collaborated together to make African Americans into second-class citizens, virtual outcasts in their own hometowns. The law before the Kansas Legislature appears to aim to do the same thing. And it does so, incidentally, because the bill’s backers know they are losing the cultural battle. It is an attempt by the fleeing army to poison wells and set oil derricks on fire.
That is wrong. That is evil. This is an outrage. And if it ends up that freedom truly is a zero-zum matter, then I have to take sides with the people who stand to suffer most from the discrimination.
This grieves me. I have lived almost six years in Philadelphia, but I am a Kansan by birth—and, I thought, by temperament. There’s a lot I still love about my home state. But that love will be overshadowed by the hate I feel for this law, if passed. I was wrong, I was wrong, I was wrong to think it could ever be otherwise.