The Civil War was brought to a close when General Robert E. Lee arrived at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia to surrender on behalf of the Confederate Army. The terms of the surrender were remarkably generous. Confederate soldiers were promised immunity from prosecution even though they were officially guilty of treason, and they were allowed to keep both their weapons and their livestock. As General Lee rode away, many of the Union soldiers felt that a certain measure of gloating was in order. But as they burst into applause, General Ulysses Grant ordered them to stop immediately.
“The Confederates were now our countrymen,” General Grant reasoned, “and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”
We can be grateful that the war over gay marriage was not fought with muskets and bayonets, and that the casualties have been, for the most part, emotional and spiritual rather than physical. The war is now over, and gay marriage has won. But I fear that the divisions between the combatants over the rainbow will be harder to heal than they were between the Blue and the Grey. Neither side sees the other as fellow countrymen, and there are plenty who stand ready and willing to exult over their enemy’s downfall.
This is why I’m uneasy in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that is the cause for so much celebration among the victors and such major lamentation from the defeated. Personally, I think this conclusion has been all but inevitable for quite some time, and I’ve said my peace on the subject numerous times on this blog. I see no point in revisiting any of the underlying arguments, which are largely irrelevant at this point. The decision, in my mind, was merely a confirmation of an already existing reality, much like when the electors gather to select a president months after all the actual votes are cast.
So it’s not the fact that gay marriage is legal that makes me uneasy. Indeed, I’m happy for my gay friends and family, and I think there are a great deal of positives to a future where married gay couples have access to the benefits and responsibilities that married straight couples have. My uncertainty, then, is rooted not in where we are, but in how we got here.
It is an unhealthy reality of our civic life that ideological opponents increasingly see those on the other side not just as misguided or incorrect, but as the embodiment of evil. Where General Grant saw the defeated confederates as “our countrymen,” today’s politicos insist that those who oppose them are either devil-worshipping Stalinists or Nazi Klansmen, depending on whether you watch Fox News or MSNBC. Victory is not achieved by persuasion, but rather by character assassination. The opposition must not only be defeated; they must also be destroyed.
Which brings us back to gay marriage, i.e. the Forces of Love vs. the Army of Hate.
#LoveWins was the trending hashtag in the wake of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, and the unambiguous implication was that hatred had lost. From the outset, gay marriage advocates have characterized those who oppose them, even to the slightest degree, as motivated solely by terrible, horrible, hideous feelings of animus. There is no such thing as principled, good faith opposition to gay marriage – there is only bigotry, ignorance, and white-hot hatred. And now that love has won, it’s not enough that hate has lost.
Hate now has to be punished.
Already, a columnist at Time Magazine has called for religious organizations to lose their tax-exempt status. Expect these calls to increase and intensify as the Forces of Love rally against the Churches of Hate. Already, Catholic Charities is being limited in their adoption services because they refuse to place children with same-sex couples. Businesses that won’t bake cakes or take pictures for gay weddings are getting sued into oblivion. Gay marriage opponents have long been branded as “intolerant,” but now the haters themselves will no longer be tolerated by the Forces of Love. Apparently, intolerance is only a bad thing when the bad people are doing the intolerating.
So here’s my message to those who are tempted to gloat:
Congratulations! You won! I look forward to sharing a bright future with you in a world where two people who love each other can legally marry without opposition. But those who oppose you are still your neighbors, your friends, and your family, and some of them may have behaved abominably during the battle. Shouldn’t the goal now be to help them understand rather than punish them for their ignorance? Can you accept them for where they are rather than demand that they move to where you want them to be? Is it too much to ask for a modicum of grace from you for those you have defeated?
If love wins, can forgiveness win, too?