The battle over gay marriage comes down to privilege


The Appalachian Online

Laney Ruckstuhl

North Carolina may be able to avoid the full blunt of national scorn and ridicule that states like Indiana received when they passed blatantly discriminatory laws against gay people.

The North Carolina House of Representatives decided last week to postpone a veto override vote on a bill which would allow magistrates to get out of marrying gay people, or pretty much any other group, on the basis of religious belief, according to the News & Observer. This may be a sign that the house is going to let this bill die a much-deserved death.

Regardless of the outcome, the entire experience of this bill has been revealing about the role of privilege in our society.

For all the pretenses to principle that anti-gay rights figures adopt, the opposition can be explained almost entirely by the loss of social privilege that many conservative Christians sense that they are losing.

This magistrate bill seems like the type of thing that conservatives should be against. This bill would create scenarios in which government employees would be able to act in ways that interfere with the ability of citizens to exercise their individual rights.

Is this not the type of arbitrary government power that many conservatives ought to oppose on principle?

There are actually a number of compelling conservative arguments for gay marriage rights: the need for limited government, protection of individual rights and faithfulness to the constitution, including its due process and equal protections provisions.

And some conservative figures have made principled stands that support gay rights in one way or another. Gov. Pat McCrory said his decision to veto the bill, despite personal objections to gay marriage, was based on the need to respect the rule of law, in a statement accompanying that veto.

Yet the number of conservative voices willing to support gay marriage or even make concessions to the cause as McCrory did are overshadowed in the national debate by those who are actively hostile.

The reason for this disparity is that the advance of gay rights, for many conservatives and particularly religious conservatives, indicates a stark new reality: the loss of a cultural privilege that they have long enjoyed.

For quite awhile now, Christianity has been the dominant religion in the United States. It seems that many on the right have mistaken this cultural dominance for some sort of right.

Naturally, this makes no sense. The United States has never, in any legal sense, been a Christian nation.

Yet there are a number of signs that Christianity, and especially conservative brands of religious thought are losing sway. A highly-publicized May Pew Research Poll showed that the number of self-identified Christians had dropped from 78 percent to 70 percent between 2007 and 2014.

The success of the gay rights movement, both legally and in public opinion, means that America is becoming a more open, inclusive and free place.

As a result of that process, groups who have enjoyed positions of power are now being forced to compete for adherents, to persuade rather than just expecting that the world turn out their way.

It might be easier to sympathize with those who are dealing with this loss of status if it were not for the fact that the loss will be accompanied by the fulfillment of justice for a marginalized group.

In a few weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court will make a decision that could extend gay marriage rights nationwide. If the court chooses to do so, it will be one of the greatest days for freedom and equality that the United States has seen in awhile.

And yet, on what should be a day of celebration for all Americans, many in our state and across the country will see it as a great defeat. Perhaps some lawmakers and activists will continue to push laws like our magistrate bill in a final effort to thwart the progress of gay rights.

If and when that happens, those individuals will not be seen the majority as fighting for a noble cause, but as fighting to protect privileges to which they were never truly entitled.

Story: Kevin Griffin, Opinion Writer

Griffin, a junior journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.