Have you heard about the Supreme Court case on anti-gay discrimination by a wedding cake baker? I won’t give you the details, but I’m including a couple of links for that.
In The New York Times, philosopher John Corvino argues that the Supreme Court should uphold the rights of a gay couple because, after a thorough analysis of the details of the case, “freedom of speech and freedom of religion do not exempt business owners from public accommodations laws.”
Andrew Sullivan praises Corvino’s argument, but disagrees. In NY Magazine, he writes, “The baker is clearly not discriminating against an entire class of people; he is refusing to endorse a particular activity that violates his faith.” Ergo, Sullivan without quite saying so explicitly takes the side of the conservative Christians.
What animates Sullivan’s column is his turn to focus on the cultural issues as opposed to the legal ones. After chastising gays for not taking freedom of expression seriously enough and chastising Christians for not living up to Jesus’s example, he concludes, “In other words, if the liberals were more liberal, and the Christians more Christian, this case would never have existed. It tells you a great deal about the decadence of our culture that it does.”
On the legal case, it’s a close call but I think Corvino has the stronger case of the two. He argues that the Court has frequently recognized that identity and activities cannot be completely separated in some cases. He quotes the late Justice Scalia as saying,“A tax on wearing yarmulkes is a tax on Jews.” Thus, with Corvino, I think the better legal argument is on the side of upholding the anti-discrimination law.
But Sullivan is also 100% right to focus on the cultural problems. Gay activists frequently treat advocates of religious liberty as wicked opponents, neglecting to acknowledge the partial validity of their claims. Perhaps gay rights could progress faster and with less backlash if conservatives were not unnecessarily put on the defensive to feel their religion was at stake.
And the real battle for ending discrimination by Christians against gays will not be won in the courtroom, but in the pews and divinity schools. The work of doing better, more honest, more Christian ethics must happen in Christian churches before real changes can occur.
Whatever happens in the Supreme Court, the most important battlefields of this culture war will remain.