On the “Shunning” of Marriage Equality Opponent Ryan T. Anderson: A Reply to Damon Linker

Writing on his blog at The Week, Damon Linker objects to the treatment of same-sex marriage opponent Ryan T. Anderson. The recent subject of an even-handed profile in the Washington Post, Anderson was briefly lauded on the website of the Friends School of Baltimore, his childhood alma mater. Barraged with criticism for its implied support of the controversial Anderson, the Friends School removed the link and issued an apology. Linker writes:

The reaction of those who raised objections to the link as well as the decision of the head of school to remove the link and offer an abject apology for posting it — both of these are depressing signs that liberal public opinion is evolving in the direction of theological certainties and illiberal forms of intolerance. These so-called liberals want Anderson to be shunned. Expelled from the community. Excommunicated from civilized life. Ostracized from the ranks of the decent.

Though he concedes that the Friends School is entitled to link—or not to link—to anyone or anything they like, Linker nonetheless joins the ranks of those concerned about the marginalization of same-sex marriage foes. I admit to a
certain affinity with Linker’s concern, but I think it’s a little misplaced.

In December of 2013, I wrote a piece for RD on the deployment of certain liberal values in the service of illiberal policies. At the top of this list was civility. I argued that some speakers have used the charge of incivility to silence or otherwise inhibit their critics. For my case study I used Ryan T. Anderson, who had written:

The principal strategy of the forces that have worked for 20 years to redefine marriage to include same-sex unions has been cultural intimidation – bullying others by threatening the stigma of being “haters” and “bigots.”

Marriage re-definers don’t tend to say what many opponents have said, that this is a difficult question on which reasonable people of goodwill can disagree. No, they’ve said anyone who disagrees with them is the equivalent of a racist. They’ve sent a clear message: If you stand up for marriage, we will, with the help of our friends in the media, demonize and marginalize you.

This kind of grotesque incivility is toxic for any democratic community.

To which I responded:

Anderson’s claim that “marriage re-definers” trade in demonization and marginalization is striking given that gay rights movements have spent over four decades struggling against vicious demonization from the Religious Right, being rhetorically and institutionally marginalized to a degree entirely out of proportion to the slights Anderson’s allies face today. Yet Anderson’s focus on the civility of speech in the present allows him to simply ignore this history and treat the discussion like it was a purely academic exercise conducted on a perfectly even field. It also allows him to skirt the legal question at the heart of the debate. As long as we are talking about the incivility of speech, we won’t be addressing the far more consequential incivility of regressive laws.

In my view, this remains the crux of the issue. I happen to agree with both Linker and Anderson that it is important to maintain a—loosely—civil discourse to protect democratic community. But I would add that perhaps the three of us ought not to be the arbiters of appropriate speech where same-sex marriage is concerned. Though it is for us “a difficult question on which reasonable people of goodwill can disagree,” it is for the LGBT community a very intimate matter determinative of very immediate and personal consequences.

We are entitled to our opinions, but we remain largely invulnerable to their political effects.

Linker is correct that a liberal society ought to be a free and open space where ideas may be exchanged and contested in free and open fashion. He may also be correct that proponents of same-sex marriage should meditate on their individual and collective responses to those opposed.

But he is wrong to suggest that Ryan T. Anderson has been “shunned.” Anderson has been able to study at some of the nation’s top universities. He holds a position at a prominent conservative think tank. He is a regular speaker and debater at prestigious venues and law schools. He edits his own journal. And no matter where his rising star carries him in the coming years, in whatever state he chooses to reside, he has the ready assurance of marriage and family—something he has become famous working to deny to a whole segment of the population.

So let me be the first to agree with Linker on the subject of liberal discourse. But let me also add a caveat. Free and open public speech means being held accountable for the things you say. Ryan T. Anderson is an advocate of uncivil policy, and has enjoyed the perks of that advocacy. That he receives some uncivil speech in reply is not necessarily a sign that liberalism is broken. It may be an indication that liberalism is alive.

31 Comments

  • dkeane123@comcast.net' DKeane123 says:

    Ah yes, when you’ve lost on the following arguments:
    – Bad for society.
    – Being gay is unnatural.
    – Bad for children.
    – Being gay is linked to deviance and pedophilia.
    – Will cheapen heterosexual marriages.
    – “Traditional” marriage is defined as one man and one woman.
    – Only God gets to define the holy union between two people.

    You can always fall back and criticize your opponents for the tone of their discourse.

    Of course let’s forget the tone of the “discourse” that homosexuals have had to put up with in this country since its founding.

  • fkassa@gmail.com' james_from_cambridge says:

    Well said! The anti gay forces have been saying the nastiest, most evil things about us for decades (calling us “sinners” is the nicest thing they’ve said about us in the last 40 years). Some of the more extreme ones still advocate sending us to jail or worse. Yet we are the ones who are not civil? Unbelievable! The martyr/victim complex is truly strong in them.

  • newyorkcitywriter@earthlink.net' scottrose says:

    Every time some anti-gay talking head like Ryan T. Anderon spews anti-gay bigotry, a gay teen living with anti-gay bigot parents thinks again about committing suicide. When these professional anti-gay bigots allege that society is going to collapse, or civilization is going to end because of acceptance of homosexuality, that is a powerful motivator for the brainwashed against their innocent gay victims.

  • websterglobe@juno.com' Christopher Johnson says:

    Let me see if I have this straight. If you object to a concept that didn’t exist 20 years ago, you’re a “bigot.” This is why nobody likes you people.

  • emiller@bloomu.edu' ecm192 says:

    It’s possible that you don’t yet have this straight. The point of the post is not that Anderson is a bigot – the point is that he’s not a victim.

  • dkeane123@comcast.net' DKeane123 says:

    Also the “you people” is classy.

  • ellisw365@gmail.com' Ellis_Weiner says:

    “They’ve sent a clear message: If you stand up for marriage, we will,
    with the help of our friends in the media, demonize and marginalize you.”

    “If you stand up for marriage.” Cute. And what are white supremacists doing? “Standing up for the white race”? That’s exactly how they put it, too. Memo to Anderson: Marriage is doing just fine. Neither you nor any other homophobe need “stand up” for it. Sit down and shut up. Ooh, sorry. I’m being uncivil. Rather, “Take a seat and maintain a judicious silence.”

  • fiona64@livejournal.com' fiona64 says:

    Actually, if “you people” would crack a damn book some time, you’ll learn that the concept of same-sex marriage is far, far, far from recent. Glad to be of assistance: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/23/-sp-secret-history-same-sex-marriage

  • fkassa@gmail.com' james_from_cambridge says:

    “Those people” don’t read unless it’s the bible or koran, hence their very narrow world view.

  • fiona64@livejournal.com' fiona64 says:

    I doubt very much that “those people” have ever read the Qu’ran; otherwise they would not be so ill-informed about Islam. But your point is nevertheless well-taken.

  • fkassa@gmail.com' james_from_cambridge says:

    Great link, BTW.

  • fiona64@livejournal.com' fiona64 says:

    Thanks; I have sadly found it useful on a fairly regular basis. :-/

  • jay.brida@designory.com' Jay B. says:

    Yes. And you better check those polls again, sweetheart.

  • junesxing@yahoo.com' Jeffrey Samuels says:

    I agree totally with this article.
    Mr. Linker says “These so-called liberals want Anderson to be shunned. Expelled from the
    community. Excommunicated from civilized life. Ostracized from the
    ranks of the decent.”
    Isn’t that exactly what the anti gay community has been doing to the gay community for generations?

  • junesxing@yahoo.com' Jeffrey Samuels says:

    just because mainstream consciousness didn’t recognize the bigotry against gay folks 20 years ago, doesn’t excuse it or make the concept of marriage any less desirable for those that have been historically denied it.

  • uner1972@einrot.com' Frank says:

    Keep speaking and holding onto the truth Mr Anderson.

  • carole645@rocketmail.com' seashell says:

    This is just so sad. How did telling the truth become a “grotesque incivility” while governmental policies that demonize and marginalize a class of people remain a “sincere Christian belief?”

    Point taken and discarded.

  • stillgoodtotalk@gmail.com' David says:

    Oh the drama! little basis in fact but a tear jerker nonetheless

  • uh_huhh@yahoo.com' uhhuhh says:

    As a gay man, I have no obligation whatsoever to respect any opinion maligning, defaming, and condemning me, my partner, our sexuality, our commitment, our morals, and our very existence. And I am beyond sick and tired of patronizing schoolmarms, such as Linker AND Miller, ordering me to bestow respect and validation on highly personal attacks, insults, and bigotry aimed at us. In fact, no heterosexual would for one second be ordered to just get over such vicious treatment as if it didn’t matter. The psychotic demand for gays to do so is itself just another aspect of anti-gay prejudice. Funny how there are no missives ordering Jews to respect the anti-Semitic ideology of neo-Nazis. No, it’s only us homosexuals who are not entitled to self-respect, who are required to sublimate our humanity, are supposed to cower and concede legitimacy to bigotry against us. NO.

    I am fully entitled to come to the conclusion that Ryan Anderson is a bigot, to express that opinion freely, to persuade others of it, and to hold him personally accountable for it. If that upsets the precious sensibilities of apologists for anti-gay bigotry who view gays as a subordinate race not entitled to call out bigotry, so be it. Therapy is available for the apologist schoolmarms.

  • uh_huhh@yahoo.com' uhhuhh says:

    Isn’t that exactly what decent society has been doing to racists and anti-Semites?

    I hope you’re not so hypocritical as to shun Klansmen, skinheads, and pedophilia advocates. This gay man does.

  • junesxing@yahoo.com' Jeffrey Samuels says:

    how do you not make the distinction between people that are antagonistic and harmful to other people, and people that just want equality? Does a Klansman say that he or she just wants equality under the law? Do Anti Semites say they just want equality under the law? Do pedophiles say they just want the right to have relationships with people that are legally entitled to make those decisions?

    No.

    Yet you think gay people who want nothing more than to live their lives with the same rights as you, are somehow the same as these other folks, whose goal, like anti gay bigots, is to deliberately do harm, humiliate, and exclude others from the same rights they have.

    There is no equivalence.

  • junesxing@yahoo.com' Jeffrey Samuels says:

    if you think this is just drama, then you haven’t been paying attention

  • junesxing@yahoo.com' Jeffrey Samuels says:

    20 years before the American Revolution, America didn’t exist. did that make believing in America 20 years later, somehow illegitimate?

  • This is a great essay. I’d like to add one point which apparently has been allowed to stand: the piece of the quotation where Anderson uses as an example of demonization of conservatives: “… they’ve said anyone who disagrees with them is the equivalent of a racist. ”

    It’s obvious that saying so is in fact not “cultural intimidation,” but a primary issue. Is legal discrimination against people who wish access to jobs and state-approved social contracts equivalent to discrimination against people of another race? After all, racism itself was perfectly legal in almost every manifestation not that long ago.

    But if people are in fact inappropriately discriminating, they are by definition bigots; and if they try to manipulate the legal system so that they can continue to discriminate, they are the moral equivalent of racists. As a speech professor who taught a lot of intro classes in my time, I can assure you, there is nothing uncivil about making these points. There is something definitely uncivil about switching the rules of argument to suggest that anyone making them is being a bully. A civil argument would be to stand up and argue the point, instead of trying to deflect it: “It’s not the equivalent of racism, and here’s why.”

    But I don’t want to leave it there, because I agree with Mr. Miller that there are limits to civility as well. William Lloyd Garrison wrote at the height of the Abolitionist debate in the 1850’s, “Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hand of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen…” (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h2928t.html)
    When one side is committing egregious discrimination, being civil has its
    limits. I would argue that one has to move into civil disobedience – the only
    civility left when the opposition refuses to let us sit at the same table.

  • I think some writers are using “shunning” WAY too loosely. It’s a cultural practice among a group of people where the result is material harm — i.e. you can’t get things you need to live, and your entire community is against you. In a modern urban setting, being highly successful at targeting a minority population doesn’t make the cut of being “bullied” and harassed” when people fight back. Nor are there equivalents even among members of the same community. There’s a difference between cliques and creating outcasts. People who experience one too often claim the other.

  • Thanks for clarifying by adding “mainstream consciousness.” Disregarding ancient history temporarily, I knew a lot of people 20 years ago (and 30, and 40, and 50) who were sharing their lives with other people of the same gender. Just because “nice” people didn’t want to hear about it didn’t mean they didn’t exist in droves.

  • uh_huhh@yahoo.com' uhhuhh says:

    I think you’re misreading my comment, and I may have misread yours.

    I disagree with both Linker and this article because even this article suggests that we’re all somehow required to respect the opinions of bigots when it comes to gay rights.

    Yet I have no doubt that these authors–though Very Concerned Liberals–would not same the same thing about anti-Semites, Klansmen, or pedophilia advocates. Suddenly they’d discover the ability to shun. So what they’re really saying is that anti-gay bigotry should get a pass that other bigotry or repellent ideas don’t get. Their opinion itself is homophobic.

  • junesxing@yahoo.com' Jeffrey Samuels says:

    sorry, I apparently misread you; easily done when reading a post or email. My apologies.

  • uh_huhh@yahoo.com' uhhuhh says:

    My apologies as well. No worries.

  • jhu937930@gmail.com' James Smith says:

    Equality is typically predicated on characteristics that do not
    imply actions, because actions are always choices. Skin color is
    irrelevant. And unchosen. Sexual orientation is almost certainly
    unchosen, but the decision to incorporate a sexual desire into one’s
    identity, and then to act on it, is a decision. Maybe most people think
    it’s the right decision, the healthiest decision, but the point is that
    it’s a choice, and subject to moral reflection. A sexual desire is not
    its own justification.

    Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/227583/redefining-religious-liberty-maggie-gallagher

    It seems that you will always find ways to twist an disagreement with gay sex or parenting into bigotry, a sign of the most unforgivable narcissism I have ever seen. You choose to make it the core of your humanity.

    You are a small percentage of the population, so it is easy to drown you out.

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