On Friday, city officials in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, informed Donald and Evelyn Knapp, ordained ministers and proprietors of the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel, that they would be required to perform gay weddings or face fines or possibly jail time under the city’s “public accommodations” statute. Their religious views are expected to adjust to the edicts of the state.
So it’s official: a new religious orthodoxy is sweeping across the nation, imposed by government and backed by force. It’s a religious orthodoxy required by secular authorities for a secular purpose, but no matter. Heretics will be found out and forced to recant.
No one ever expects the Secular Inquisition.
Except that we actually did expect it. In fact, it’s inherent in the fundamental basis of the left’s arguments for gay marriage.
I’m speaking here of the argument for gay marriage. It may be hard to remember now, but not very long ago there were compromise proposals for same-sex “civil unions” that were legally equivalent to marriage but under a different name. Gay rights activists consciously rejected these unions in order to specifically demand the use of the term “marriage,” insisting that the state legally recognize and enforce the equality of these marriages with old-fashioned, outmoded heterosexual ones.
Personally, I have no problem with gay people getting hitched, having weddings, and saying that they are “married.” I don’t have any religious objection, on account of not being religious, nor do I think gay marriages, given their very small numbers, will have any particular impact on the state of marriage as an important social institution. (Which, alas, has all sorts of problems of its own.)
But the test of liberty isn’t what happens to people who agree with the intent of a particular edict. The test is what happens to people who disagree.
That brings us to the reason why gay rights advocates insisted on the government granting same-sex unions the title of “marriage.” The theory behind this was that homosexuals suffer from a lack of social acceptance, and gay marriage would put the government’s imprimatur on their status as social equals—along with the promise that this equality is to be backed by government force.
The theory behind gay marriage, in short, was the theory behind the entire secular left: society and the state are the all-powerful forces on which the life of the individual depends, and the most important political task—indeed, the most important task in life—is getting this irresistible power on your side. Once you gain social and political power, you hold on to it by making your preferred views mandatory, a catechism everyone must affirm, while suppressing all heretical views. In this case, to gain social acceptance of homosexuality, you make the affirmation of gay marriages mandatory while officially suppressing any dissenting religious views.
Hence, the Secular Inquisition, which we should have expected all along.
Except that it turns out to have the opposite effect in the long run, as the history of the original Inquisition reveals. A big part of the reason for the centuries-long decline in the influence of religion in the West is the aftermath of its attempts to protect its social monopoly through coercion. I don’t think the Church has ever really recovered from the legacy of the Spanish Inquisition, which served to discredit religion by associating it with brutality—an image that has lived in infamy for centuries, down to its use in a certain well-known Monty Python sketch.
As an advocate of secularism—including secular morality and a secular basis for liberty—I don’t want my own views similarly discredited by association with the oppressive acts of a new Secular Inquisition.