by James A. Bacon
Among my less useful accomplishments in life, I earned a Masters degree in African history at the Johns Hopkins University, an interdisciplinary program merging history and anthropology. Among the few useful perspectives I gained was an appreciation of the extraordinary plasticity of family forms throughout history and across the world. There are patrilineal societies (which are organized around the father’s kinship group) and matrilineal societies (organized around the mother’s). There are patrilocal societies (in which the wife moves in with the husband’s family), matrilocal societies (the husband moves in with the wife’s family), avunculocal societies (newlyweds move into the residence of the wife’s uncle) and neolocal societies (in which the newly married set up their own abode).
Don’t even get me started about polygamy (marriage between a man and multiple women) and polyandry (one wife, more than one husband). You get the idea. The traditional American family in which couples trace descent through the parents of both spouses and form their own residence is far from universal, and it is hardly the only form of marriage that is capable of raising children to become productive members of society. That’s why, as much as I revere my cultural heritage of marriage between a man and a woman, I don’t see gay marriage as leading to social disintegration. If you fear social disintegration, a far bigger threat is the American welfare state, which has substituted the nexus of government entitlements for the bonds uniting man and woman.
Unlike my conservative peers, I don’t get exercised about gay marriage, at least if it evolves organically from changes in social norms as played out in the legislative process. I do have a problem with gay marriage being imposed nationally by judicial decree by five Supreme Court justices. And I have a huge problem in which the proponents of gay marriage harness the power of government to squelch those who fail to truckle to the new orthodoxy. The political Left has a totalitarian instinct that is a far greater threat to the American way of life than gay marriage ever will be.
Emboldened by their success in legalizing gay marriage, the American Left has moved way beyond the proposition of equal rights for gays. Progressives are moving to impose their views on dissenters, including those who, for reasons of religious conviction, decline to provide floral, catering or other services to gay weddings.
The latest case in point comes from Oregon. According to the Daily Signal, a publication of the conservative Heritage Foundation, Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian finalized a preliminary ruling ordering Aaron and Melissa Klein to pay $135,000 in emotional damages to a gay couple. Their crime: refusing to make a same-sex wedding cake. His justification: “This case … is about a business’s refusal to serve someone because of their sexual orientation. Under Oregon law, that is illegal.” Moreover:
In the ruling, Avakian placed an effective gag order on the Kleins, ordering them to “cease and desist” from speaking publicly about not wanting to bake cakes for same-sex weddings based on their Christian beliefs. …
“The Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries hereby orders [Aaron and Melissa Klein] to cease and desist from publishing, circulating, issuing or displaying, or causing to be published … any communication to the effect that any of the accommodations … will be refused, withheld from or denied to, or that any discrimination be made against, any person on account of their sexual orientation,” Avakian wrote.
Lawyers for plaintiffs, Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, argued that in making this statement, the Kleins violated an Oregon law banning people from acting on behalf of a place of public accommodation (in this case, the place would be the Kleins’ former bakery) to communicate anything to the effect that the place of public accommodation would discriminate.
Thus, gay rights trump freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Avakian’s action is a national outlier now. But I fear it will become the norm. Many progressives, like Avakian, are closet totalitarians. They will not be satisfied simply to allow gays to marry — they will not rest until dissenting views are driven underground.
Could such a thing happen in Virginia? I hope not. But I can tell you this: While I support gay marriage, I will oppose with every fiber of my being any effort to extinguish the freedoms of religion and speech of Americans who oppose it.