What I learned from a bigot

I talked with a bigot a couple of nights ago on Twitter. She's not a bigot because I disagree with her about marriage equality. She's a bigot because she believes that discriminating against a class of people based upon an attribute of that class for reasons that arise in her particular religious faith is something that should be enshrined in secular law enforced by government. (I was not talking about, nor was she, requiring churches to allow ceremonies by arbitrary couples.) (The long examination of that discussion is on my blog, and it’s too long for here.) I'm sure some of you don't support same-sex marriage. Perhaps you find homosexuality unacceptable. Perhaps you believe civil unions are appropriate and state-sanctioned marriage is something with a particular purpose, like making children, that should be reserved to two people of different genders. That's an entirely different matter from being a bigot. No one is required in secular society to embrace everyone's beliefs or practices; that kind of Kumbaya is far too much to ask for or even desire, because we almost certainly all find some part of other people's beliefs unacceptable or antithetical to us. Rather, the notion of a secular democracy is that each of us may hold whatever opinion we have, but neither by our acts nor our laws do we restrict due to race, creed, color, gender, or other attributes — many immutable and some by choice — their ability to pursue their livelihood, to not be violently assaulted by members of society nor jailed by its executive branch, nor to be denied the rights available to all members of society insofar as they do not constitute a general restriction of the rights, freedom, health, or safety of others. This is why we prohibit murder and encourage adoption. We generally now prohibit striking a child (once acceptable when performed by parents) but allow putting people in jail. Why we prohibit theft and encourage philanthropy. Society's best goals are served outside of discrimination, and we can argue about the amount of regulation and criminal statutes required to ensure that such discrimination isn't either tacitly or explicitly allowed.

Liberals classically think more government oversight is needed (leading to a “nanny state”); conservatives less (leading to a free for all). But both ends of the spectrum and the middle typically agree on the principle that people should remain mostly unmolested for pursuing their private lives and employment. The fact that many prominent center-right Republicans have signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court to support the overturning of Proposition 8 in California is a sign of that. So, too, is the work by left and right together in protecting the privacy of individuals online. The woman I interacted with is a bigot because she believes that different people, by reason of their difference, should be barred from certain civil, secular rights, and that, among other things, businesses should be allowed to reject a person's custom because they are a member of a class, and public accommodations should be allowed to refuse to rent facilities to members of a class. She is a woman, Catholic, Canadian, and probably a few other things that decades or longer ago would have been subject to the discrimination she defends as a matter of religious choice.

She's a bigot. Rejecting bigotry, which is exclusive, is not a form of discrimination. Bigots want to reserve rights to themselves. The rest of us want to expand them to include others.