Prominent writers recently wrestled with the following question: If a business declines to photograph a same sex wedding, does that automatically prove the owner is an “anti-gay bigot”?

Ross Douthat started the conversation with his op-ed at the New York Times which echoed the left’s mantra that the debate is over and same-sex marriage will soon win.  The only question remaining is, will gay rights activists honour freedom and “let the dissenters opt out,” or will they be pressured and sued into celebrating same sex marriages?

At Slate, Mark Joseph Stern promptly criticized Douthat for claiming the war was already won.  This is odd since this is precisely what the left’s talking point has been for months:  Same sex marriage is inevitable, so give up already.

Which Douthat did.

Stern also excoriated Douthat for portraying religious business owners as victims:

Douthat, like most state legislators who have defended “religious liberty” bills, explicitly cites that infamous trio: a florist, a photographer, and a baker, who claimed their Christianity required that they deny service to gay couples. There’s a reason these same three cases pop up time and time again: They tell a very human story of a small-business owner suddenly trapped in the labyrinth of a lawsuit, the victim of the gay rights movement run amok.

(Does Stern believe only gays have the right to play the victim card?)

For someone who argues against hatred, Stern’s piece is curiously full of contempt.  He calls Douthat’s opinion “homophobic apologia.”  But perhaps Stern is merely following the example of the highest court in the land.

The US Supreme Court did a grave disservice to both sides of the marriage debate when they claimed that everyone who wants to preserve gender-integration in marriage must be motivated by “animus.”  This only encourages gay rights activists to look suspiciously at supporters of pro-gender marriage.

Fortunately, many see through the Court’s animus argument.  As Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic noticed:

The Slate article is implicitly trafficking in its own sort of prejudice. The working assumption is that homophobia, anti-gay bigotry, and hatred are obviously what’s motivating anyone who declines to provide a service for a gay wedding.  That assumption is wrongheaded.

Slate writer William Saletan agrees that opponents of gender-segregated marriage are not ipso facto bigots.  He warned, “We’re stereotyping and vilifying opponents of gay marriage the way we’ve seen gay people stereotyped and vilified. This is a deeply personal moral issue.”

Gay rights activists used to hold the sympathy card.  But does suspicion, name-calling, and stereotyping their opponents signify that they are now trafficking in hate?

Friedersdorf cautions activists: “Telling a group that an incident or dispute is rooted in bigotry when evidence supports a different conclusion increases the perception of being hated more than reality justifies.”

And will activists’ zealous search for animus yield results?  As they continue to accuse Christians of bigotry, will they be fostering a climate of hate?  As they sue their fellow citizens for holding a different religious belief about gender in marriage, will the tables be turned?  This is precisely Douthat’s concern– that same-sex marriage activists might overplay their hand and bully those who disagree with them.

This is an important conversation.  If supporters of pro-gender marriage are automatically branded as haters, this will shut down debate and prejudice wins.  Fortunately, we have free speech and can have this debate out in the open, even though both sides risk being labelled by haters.

Stern defended himself in his post titled “A Polite Homophobe Is Still a Homophobe.”  He argues that simply because a photographer declines politely doesn’t mean she’s not bigoted.  “By dressing up her homophobia in good manners,” the photographer “might have softened the blow for” the female couple seeking photos of their ceremony.  “But the ultimate effect of her actions is the same as if she had placed a sign on her shop door stating ‘No Gay Couples Served Here.’”

In his rebuttal Stern starts out talking about a “union” and then promptly switches it to an individual “identity.”

[F]or Friedersdorf, believing that gays, lesbians, and their legal unions are “sinful” does not qualify as homophobia—even if this belief leads you to turn gay couples away from your business. I disagree. To believe that someone’s identity is inherently sinful is, to my mind, to be bigoted against them.

First of all, when talking about Christians, gays, and sin, it is crucial to note that Christians believe everyone is sinful, themselves included.

Secondly, Stern conflates marriage and identity.  Whether people are born with same sex attraction or not is an ongoing debate. But no one is arguing that they are born married.  Choosing a spouse is an action, not a state of being.  Even many gays do not endorse same sex marriage.  Surely they are not “anti-gay” for honoring gender diversity in marriage.

Thirdly, Stern conveniently ignores the fact that the photographers in question “will serve anyone” including gays. However, they draw the line at endorsing same sex weddings.  And a whopping 85 percent of Americans agree with the photographers right to do so.  We can all delight in baby photos and senior portraits and graduation pictures regardless of sexual orientation.  But we can choose not to celebrate gender discrimination in the public institution of marriage.

Would photographers take pictures of a mixed orientation marriage?  How about a gay man married to a lesbian woman? If they say yes to these jobs, that’s not homophobia.

What about two straight guys who want to marry and raise a family together?  If the photographers decline to take pictures of the wedding of two straight guys, again, that’s not anti-gay.  And it’s not anti-straight.  It’s pro-gender.

In their hunt for animus and discrimination, gay rights activists would do well to look at marriage with wide eyes and an open mind and insightful questions.

When two men decline a wife and exclude from their marriage the mother of their children, is that sexist?  Is there an inherent animus against women when two men marry?

Is male marriage sexist even if it’s all dressed up in trendy gay rights talk? Gay rights advocates obviously have a heart for homosexuals. We can join their quest to stamp out bullying and to treat all gays with dignity and respect. In turn, we invite them to open their hearts to women and join us in opposing discrimination against women in marriage.  

Kelly Bartlett has been practicing life, love, and marriage for decades, hoping to improve her game. She writes from Vermont. She blogs at Home Griddle, where this was first published.

Kelly Bartlett has been practicing life, love, and marriage for decades, hoping to improve her game. She writes from a house nestled in a meadow off a dirt road in Vermont, surrounded by family and friends,...