The Victorian government has introduced legislation unwinding Labor changes to anti-discrimination law. Among the items proposed to be repealed is a law that would have required religious organisations not to discriminate against people whose lifestyles or beliefs were contrary to those mandated by a religion. A Jakob Quilligan wrote to his local Liberal MP objecting to the change, as reported in the Sunday Age:
It is absurd that a government would excuse or pardon one groups’ discrimination against others just because it was done of the basis of their particular spiritual beliefs.
Quilligan, who is gay, thinks that he may be discriminated against by a religious employer.
While I share Quilligan’s assumption that religious objections to homosexuality are misguided, I do not share his opposition to these amendments. What is needed is some mutual toleration. As Jonathan Rauch argued recently,
The gay rights movement will have to show unusual foresight to be an exception [to the rule that minority groups make mistakes as they achieve majority support]. Our every instinct will be to press our advantage, exploit our momentum, and drive the other side into the sea. The straight world has ginned up any and every shabby excuse to hurt gay people, with organized religion often leading the way. And now we’re supposed to be tolerant?
Well, yes. As gays become a majority [ie, have the support of most people], the burden of toleration—and it is a burden—shifts to us. This is the most difficult adjustment a minority rights movement can make.
What we have here is a high degree of mutual incomprehension driven by core aspects of identity. On the religious side, how could a man be sexually attracted to another man? How could they act contrary to the Bible’s teachings? On the gay side, how could something that they cannot change, something that can lead to loving relationships, be the basis for denying them opportunities open to others?
Through most of history, the more powerful side in these conflicts has seen the solution as to declare themselves right and to crush the losers. This almost inevitably led to persecution and conflict. The genius of liberal toleration was to say that we don’t need to decide who is right. We don’t have to like each other or agree with each other, we just have to put up with each other. Each can have their own institutional space where their own rules apply, with a neutral state.
Switching from the state beating up gays on behalf of religion to beating up religion on behalf of gays isn’t progress. It’s intolerance with the sides switched.