Why civil disobedience is irrelevant to gay marriage

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A same-sex couple say their vows during a Jewish ceremony. For use with RNS-GAY-MARRIAGE, transmitted on November 19, 2013, Photo courtesy Jacqui DePas Photography.

A same-sex couple say their vows during a Jewish ceremony. For use with RNS-GAY-MARRIAGE, transmitted on November 19, 2013, Photo courtesy Jacqui DePas Photography.

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Why the nationalization of legal gay marriage does not really present the possibility of civil disobedience, despite angry rhetoric to that effect.

  • Darrell Lindsey

    Thanks for a great perspective. I have been troubled by all of this talk of civil disobedience, but couldn’t clearly communicate my position.

  • Dave

    Very helpful post David. This is a complicated issue, and I understand some of the legitimate concerns that religious organizations have. Sadly, what we’re seeing is rampant fear mongering and un-Christlike “coversations” on the Internet, with all kinds of threats and accusations in concert with absolute panic attacks. More people need to be exposed to a reasonable voice like yours.

  • Garson Abuita

    How does your view apply to the bakers/florists/photographers? They claim that the government is mandating them to participate in same-sex weddings, through business-ending fines if they don’t, plus public opprobrium. They also claim that God forbids them to participate. Yet they are not “Christian organizations” like the ones you list.

  • Chad

    I echo Garson’s question – What is your position regarding the situation of the Klein family in Oregon? In their case, they are being forced to either participate in something they find wrong and inappropriate or to close their business. Does a person forfeit the right to “free exercise” when they start a business? Or is it legitimate to see the business as an extension of the individual and their beliefs and positions? What if they see the business as a “ministry”?

  • This comment is beyond the pale and fails the civility standard, badly.

  • LS

    Dr. Gushee…Thanks for keeping the conversation going…I, too, would like to hear your response, please, to Garson’s excellent question above regarding non-Christian organizations like bakers/florists/photographers who claim that “the government is mandating them to participate in same-sex weddings through business-ending fines if they don’t, plus public opprobrium.”

  • ronald

    This is no time for civility, good doctor, when the armies of the Prince of LIes are upon us.

    Was Christ being civil when he beat up the money-changers and threw them out of the temple? As Christians we are called upon to be on fire with the Holy Spirit, and to set this fallen world ablaze with our faith!

    For He came not in peace, but with a sword! He came to set man against father, and daughter against mother. Jesus was a radical revolutionary, and so must we be in His name!

  • Ben in oakland

    Don’t worry about it, Mr. Gushee. This guy is sodomy and children obsessed, and regularly makes comments like this all the time. RNS pretty much ignores its own commenting guidelines when it comes to him. Not that I have a problem with that, because I believe that this naked display of very Virulent bigotry only does good.

    One thing you will notice is that all of the “good Christians”, who regularly disparage anybody who doesn’t measure up to their very limited view of Christianity, and are perfectly happy to cite Corinthians to disparage gay people, never call him out on the slander and reviling that he regularly and engages in.

    It’s why I don’t take them all that seriously as either Christians are human beings.

  • Ben in oakland

    Well, when you ask a loaded question, don’t be surprised if the answer agrees with you. The clients chose to ignore laws at every level of government, which for bid discrimination on the basis of religious belief, yours or mine. They also chose to ignore laws in Oregon which forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Since marriage equality was not the case in Oregon at the time, they were not participating in anything other than making a cake, the same cake they make for everyone else. Claiming that there are exceptions to antidiscrimination laws merely underlines why we have them in the first place.

    It is very telling that the only time these objections ever make their appearance is when a certain class of so-called Christian is required to treat gay people decently, politely, and the same as everyone else. A little research will show you that the Kleins were happy to make cakes for all kinds of things that anybody else would call sinful.

  • Mark Schnitzer

    I think that when a person sells a service they have to realize that they are going to be serving a huge swath of people that they do not agree with. If ,as a business owner, simply want to serve others like you or agree with you, I do not think that you will be in business very long.
    The Klein family sells a serve, and I disagree with the idea that they are “being forced… to participate” They are providing a service, in this case a selling a wedding cake. They are not participating in anything.
    If they want to practice their faith then they should “do good to those” considered by them to be a enemy of the Gospel. In fact they should have “gone the second mile” so to speak, in making it the best wedding cake ever. That is in the Bible, not discriminating against another person created in the image of God.

  • Tim

    Thanks for a reasonable voice.

    In regards to the Klien’s bakery — The problem I have with them is that they were willing to take money from this same gay couple 2 years earlier for a wedding cake (used at the marriage of the mother of one of them).

  • Dr. Gushee,

    Thankyou for such a well articulated commentary on the irrelevancy of civil disobedience as a protest against CIVIL same sex marriage. I agree with all of your points. I’m on the other side of this issue, as I’ve been an LGBT activist my entire adult life, since I’m trans and transitioned as a teenage in the early ’70s. I’ve never had call personally to use civil disobedience, only political and moral persuasion. But, on the day I got married in 1999 (remember, I’m legally female in the eyes of California law) my beloved Uncle Jimmy engaged in an act of church disobedience to officiate in his capacity as a Methodist Minister. Thus, many who are called by God to disobey authority are doing so to SUPPORT LGBT marriage. So, I do urge clergy, if so called, to disobey authority when that authority so clearly promotes unkind disparagement of LGBT people.

    Best wishes
    ~Kay Brown

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  • Susan Cameron

    These individuals have legal avenues and arguments that they have not pursued. I surmise this is because their legal representatives (such as the Beckett Fund, Alliance Defending Freedom, and Liberty Counsel) have chosen legal strategies that would make “martyrs” out of their clients, rather than winning their cases. For example, Elane Photography stipulated that it was a “public accommodation” under New Mexico law. Without this stipulation, it’s argument – that applying the law to an artist restricted the artist’s freedom of expression – stood a good chance of ewinning, according to legal analysts with no stake in either side of the argument.

    Bakers and florists that offer designs A, B and C to the general public are selling a commodity, and therefore are covered by anti-discrimination laws. But if asked to make a custom design that expresses a message, they could also assert their freedom of expression.

  • Jack

    Ben, you should post examples regarding the Kleins. I would be genuinely interested to know.

  • Jack

    Not a bad article, Mr. Gushee. I think you treated the issue of civil disobedience fairly well.

    Nevertheless, I hope you will answer Garson’s good question.

  • Jack

    Fair point, Ronald, but Gushee is for gay marriage, so you can’t expect him to feel incensed about a ruling he presumably agrees with.

    Gushee is simply thinking through the logic of civil disobedience to see whether it fits here. I had my doubts that it did and Gushee confirmed some of them.

    Look, I’m against the ruling, too, but that doesn’t stop me from appreciating a well-reasoned article when I see one.

  • Todd

    Good point. The author is naïve if he does not understand that the heavy hand of the state is going to come down hard on Christians. The gay movement and its enforcers will not tolerate any dissent. That’s why even if there are a hundred bakers available to bake for a gay wedding, a lone dissenter will still be identified and shut down. This is decidedly not about access to services. It is about silencing those who disagree. It is a totalitarian, ugly and un-Christian.

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  • Shawnie5

    That is because they had no objection to any of the people themselves but to the act of participating in a gay wedding. Why so many have such difficulty understanding this is baffling

  • Shawnie5

    Thank you, Susan. My thoughts exactly.

  • Eric

    This is helpful, though this paragraph also raises another question the courts might have to decide, at least if framed this way:

    “Bakers and florists that offer designs A, B and C to the general public are selling a commodity, and therefore are covered by anti-discrimination laws. But if asked to make a custom design that expresses a message, they could also assert their freedom of expression.”

    Would a request from a gay or lesbian couple be a request for a custom design, or just a request for the same designs everyone else buys? This could get into some tedious, and disingenuous, hair-splitting–if design A regularly included the names of the groom and bride, would a gay couple requesting design A with their names count as customizing?–but I don’t see how it would be avoidable either.

  • Eric

    No, what is baffling is the idea that providing business services for a wedding celebration *now* counts as “participating” in a religious service.

  • Eric

    When Denny Burke thinks you get something wrong, that is prima facie evidence you are probably correct.

  • Todd

    What a thoughtful and informative post.

  • Ronald:

    First, Jesus did not “beat up” the money changers. The Gospel of John is the only one to mention the detail of the whip, and many translations (ASV 1901, NCV, NIV, NRSV) make it clear that it was only the sheep and cattle he chased from the temple with it. There is NO mention of physical violence to anyone.

    Second, when Jesus came to “bring not peace but a sword,” he didn’t mean that Christians should be the one swinging the sword. He did mean that we might sometimes be victims of violence because of our following of him. We might be the ones the sword falls on, in other words. The one time any of his followers did swing a sword, he told him to put it back before he hurt himself (grin), and healed the guy it had been used on.

  • Chad Davis

    So Ben – are gay bakers required to make a cake for a church event that says “Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman”? Does a Jew have to make a cake with swastikas all over it? Does the law apply to everyone the same?

  • Dominic

    Gays interrupting Catholic Masses to protest is not civil disobedience? This article seems to imply that Christians are on the verge of a lawless run on the Supreme Court.
    Christians….true Christians, will accept gay marriage as secular nonsense, like abortion, that cannot rule their life or command them to alter their beliefs. Gay marriage lacks any tradition of acceptance and abortion was criminalized with the fall of the Roman Empire. Out of the blue they have become acts of love. Why should Christians acknowledge these digressions as productive?

  • JBT

    If all you REALLY want is a cake, go to Walmart. When I was married, my baker, florist, and photographer were all participants in the ceremony. They considered themselves participants, rejoicing with us in our moment. It was very personal for them. I wouldn’t have had it any other way and, frankly, neither would they. They put heart and soul, as well as technical skills, into what they did.

    To say that these folks aren’t participants is absurd … or you really missed out on something special in your wedding.

  • JBT

    Their prior business with these folks is precisely the point. This clearly wasn’t “We don’t serve your kind here” because they had a long history of serving these folks. Would they prepare a birthday cake? Sure. There’s nothing in the Bible condemning birthdays. In fact, they’re a blessing (Prov 10:27 The fear of the LORD prolongeth days: but the years of the wicked shall be shortened.)

    These businesspeople don’t say they won’t serve those PEOPLE. They say , “I can’t participate in that EVENT.”

    The difference is huge.

  • Darr Sandberg

    Nice clouding of the issue. At what point does a stock design become custom? When the client request that the sample names in the example be replaced with their own names?

    Or does it conveniently become a ‘message’ when the cake is identical to the sample, but ordered for a same-sex couple?

    Why should people be exempt from one law because of their religious beliefs, and not other laws?

  • Darr Sandberg

    When you are unable to tell the difference between an exclusionary message, and inclusive one, your questions will of course confirm your prejudice.

    Equating same-sex marriage with the Holocaust indicates a lack of moral sense.

  • Darr Sandberg

    Todd, your fantasy actually reflects what people who preach ‘homosexuality is sin’ have been doing to GLBTQ people for more than a thousand years – using the heavy hand of governmental disapproval to coerce and punish.

    ” The gay movement and its enforcers will not tolerate any dissent. ”

    In the U.S., nearly the majority of GLBTQ people identify as Christian, and even more of our straight allies do. Your fantasy is based on a false premise, that this a conflict between Christians and GLBTQ people. It is not. It is a conflict between people, some claiming to be Christians, with a bias against GLBTQ people.

  • Darr Sandberg

    ” It is about silencing those who disagree. It is a totalitarian, ugly and un-Christian.”

    Well, Mr. McLaughlin, the attorney in California who presented himself as a Christian and sought to make homosexuality punishable by death, certainly attempted to silence those who disagree. And the bans on same-sex marriage were totalitarian, ugly and unchristian. So too was the criminalization of homosexual sex until 2003, the lawfulness of firing people for being gay in much of the U.S., the campaigns that smear GLBTQ people throughout the last 50 years.

    What you fear, Todd, is what your peers have been doing to GLBTQ people. And it is what you would do again if you could, as Mr. McLaughlin demonstrates.

  • Darr Sandberg

    “To say that these folks aren’t participants is absurd …”

    So are you a participant in every act done by anyone who buys something from you?

    Of course, you’re anonymous, so there’s no telling how you make your living. But if you sell cars, for example, and someone buys a car from you and uses it to commit a felony – by your reasoning, you are complicit in that felony.

    The more people use this “bakers are participants” line, the closer we get to using it in ways you won’t like.

  • Darr Sandberg


    The situation is a bit less neutral than folks make it out to be.

    “When Cryer and her mother arrived at Sweet Cakes by Melissa, Aaron Klein ushered them to his office, where he then asked for the names of the bride and groom. ”

    This indicates that Aaron believe Cryer to be heterosexual. So, the prior purchase doesn’t clear the Kleins on the discrimination charge, nothing about that prior order would communicate to them that the purchasers were a lesbian couple and they clearly assumed that Cryer was heterosexual. But when Aaron found out that Cryer was a lesbian, then he discriminated against on that basis.

    It is not about participating in a wedding. It is about learning, through the nature of the event that the cake was for, that Cryer was not heterosexual as previously assumed by the Kleins.

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