I wanted to add a thought to an already thoughtful exchange between my friend Roger Simon and fellow PJ guy Bryan Preston, whom I don’t have the pleasure to know. Roger, a firm supporter of gay marriage, put forward the idea that the nation (as opposed to our reckless, corrupt and idiotic government) is becoming not more leftist or conservative, but more libertarian, more dedicated to individual freedom. Because of that, Roger argued, the only thing saving intrusive leftism from the death it so richly deserves is social conservatism — especially the right’s opposition to gay marriage which, to young people, is “a done deal”:

SoCons who continue to press this issue on the political (not the personal or religious) stage have to realize that they are damaging many of us who have other concerns domestic and foreign, many of which we would probably agree on more easily.

Bryan responded in a friendly but impassioned post:

Where do the surrenders end? Those who share the shut-up sentiment never say. They just tell social conservatives to shut up already and give up on the issues that for many are the very reason that they got into politics in the first place. So we surrender on marriage, then we give up on life, and pretty soon, they’ll be telling us to give up on the Second Amendment, then the First, then something else. Always retreat, ever surrender, because they say so, never offering a glimpse of what might be the end game.

This caught my attention because, while I’m far closer to Roger on this issue than to Bryan, I feel strongly that any move toward gay marriage needs to be accompanied by well-stated protections for religious conscience — yes, even though my own religious ideas are different. It should not be that a religious person or organization that holds homosexuality sinful should be forced to relate to gay couples in the same way they relate to straights. I don’t think Catholic adoption agencies should have to cater to gay couples, and I certainly don’t think a religious photographer should be forced to photograph a gay wedding. Please don’t leave comments comparing this to denying service to black people. Race is a nothing, an invented nonsense. Gay people commit acts that long tradition condemns. It’s a much different proposition.

However, while I would like to see the old prejudices against gays laid to rest, I agree with Bryan that he should not be told to put his deeply held convictions on ice for purely political reasons. I’ve heard the arguments against gay marriage. I don’t agree with them, but I respect them and I know they come from deep thought and deep belief. They should be part of the right’s conversation.

The right should talk openly about these things — but it sure seems to me we might talk about them in a different way. Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson gave a perfect example of what I mean. Both Roger and I spoke out strongly in defense of Robertson’s right to say what he said in condemnation of homosexuality. But frankly, I thought it was baloney. This sample shows why:

It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.

Sin is not logical, and neither is that. Either sex is an expression of love that involves the whole person (not just his body parts) or it is a purely mechanical operation. If it is purely mechanical, then you’ll have to explain to me why one robotic sexual action is any more sinful than another. Penises don’t sin, after all; people do. If, on the other hand, sex is a spiritual act, then you might have an argument that some types of sex are sinful, but if you make that argument, you are advising a fellow spirit to forgo the consolations of romantic love. And if you want to condemn an individual to a life without romantic love, you better make a much more compelling case than Robertson’s! Just because thinking about some sex act or other makes you wrinkle your nose is no reason to condemn someone else to loneliness.

So my suggestion to the right is simply this. Don’t shut up. Argue your side. But argue it as if you were talking about human beings just like yourself. That is: people who live in a world of loneliness and suffering and death, people who fall in love and who look to that love for consolation, comfort and meaning. That’s who the debate on gay marriage is about: human beings. We should make our arguments — whatever they are — accordingly.

So often, the left wins debates by a flagrant and self-serving display of compassion. Their arguments are almost always wrong. But compassion itself is not wrong. In the political sphere, it’s required. Wherever we stand, we might put some effort into showing a little bit of that compassion when we make our case.

See also Roger Kimball, “That Awful Word ‘Social.’”