I didn’t link to Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent: Why We Must Have Both when it came out because I have mixed feelings about it. The statement, signed by about fifty prominent supporters of marriage equality, calls for the use of persuasion rather than going after people’s jobs. I passionately agree with the central point of the statement, but I still have some quibbles. Why is it only when billionaire Brandon Eich suffers that this list of notables signed a petition? I understand that things that happen to famous people get, by definition, more attention, but let’s face it: nothing is going to shut Brandon Eich up if he wants to speak. The real threat to freedom of speech is when people who aren’t billionaire celebrities are targeted, and it would have been nice if the statement had acknowledged any case other than Eich’s.
I’m also bothered that the statement doesn’t acknowledge people who have been fired for favoring same-sex marriage. This is a bit unfair of me to criticize, because the statement drafters made the right choice – talking about ordinary people who are fired every year for being gay, or for just favoring gay rights, would have made the “Freedom to Dissent” statement seem like an attack on those who oppose SSM, rather than an elevated statement of principle. But even though it was the right thing for this statement, it still contributes to the general rule that threats to the free speech of right-wing views are widely castigated (by both the left and the right) as bullying and a threat to free speech, while those who fire people for being gay or for supporting marriage equality – which happens much more frequently – are given a pass by both sides, and barely even reported on.
I’d love to see some of the nation’s most prominent opponents of same-sex marriage – Robert George, Ryan Anderson, Maggie Gallagher, and so on – join together to write a similar statement defending the free speech of those who have lost jobs due to favoring marriage equality, or whose employers force them to sign statements opposing marriage equality. It could simply reword the “Freedom to Dissent” statement, like so:
As a viewpoint, advocacy of gay marriage is not a punishable offense. We strongly believe that support of same-sex marriage is wrong, but the consequence of holding a wrong opinion should not be the loss of a job.
But I don’t expect they ever will, nor will they ever be pressured to. This double-standard is bad for a culture of free speech; to have real freedom of speech, everyone, including people employed by right-wingers, should feel free to publicly say their political views without fear of being fired.1
Ryan Anderson and Robert George, two leading opponents of marriage equality, responded to the “Freedom To Dissent” statement:
In April, more than 50 scholars and leaders, all self-identified same-sex marriage supporters, called their allies to higher moral ground. Prompted by the bullying of Brendan Eich and his resignation as CEO of Mozilla for his 2008 donation to California’s Proposition 8 campaign, they wrote to decry the “deeply illiberal impulse” to “punish rather than to criticize or to persuade” political dissenters. Because “opposition to gay marriage” can be “expressed respectfully,” they urged, it should not be “a punishable offense.” No one should lose a job for “holding a wrong opinion.” Trying to purge the workplace or the public square of dissent is, as they see it, political “oppress[ion].”
As supporters of marriage as the union of husband and wife, we applaud the signatories’ support for a free society. In any healthy civic order, citizens will be able to disagree with each other even about important matters without intimidation and recrimination. The right to dissent will be honored and those who express dissent will be respected not bullied into submission or silence. We thank the signatories of “Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent” for their defense of civility.
That’s nice, but I have to ask: When have Anderson and George ever used their powerful status and platform to call on their own allies to stop “trying to purge the workplace” of “dissent”? There have been plenty of opportunities, but as far as I can tell, neither Anderson nor George has ever publicly defended a person fired for being pro-gay, pro-gay-marriage, or gay.2
Robert George himself was quick to call for a boycott – what he would call “bullying” if it was coming from gay rights proponents – because he was infuriated by Eich’s boilerplate I-respect-all-people-including-gays statement.3
William Saletan points out that if you read George and Anderson’s piece carefully, what they call for is not merely a culture in which we can disagree on politics without losing our jobs, but for a general right for businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples.
- I can think of exceptions to this generalization, mainly when someone’s speech significantly impacts their ability to do their job. [↩]
- Indeed, years ago, Robert George was the nation’s leading defender of the government’s legal right to throw people in prison for having gay sex. It’s hard to see how that viewpoint combines with any substantive support of freedom. [↩]
- You can read George’s full call for a boycott on his Facebook page, or here in screencap form. [↩]