Support for Proposition 8, the democratically established marriage amendment in California, has come with a heavy price for many individuals and institutions that think that marriage should remain the union of husband and wife. Publicly available sources, including evidence submitted in a federal lawsuit in California, show that expressions of support for Prop 8 have generated a range of hostilities and harms that include harassment, intimidation, vandalism, racial scapegoating, blacklisting, loss of employment, economic hardships, angry protests, violence, at least one death threat, and gross expressions of anti-religious bigotry. Because the issue of marriage is still very much alive in California and throughout the nation, the naked animus manifested against people and groups that supported Prop 8 raises serious questions that should concern anyone interested in promoting civil society, democratic processes, and reasoned discourse on important matters of public policy, such as marriage.
Although many same-sex marriage activists have condemned certain types of hostilities described in this paper and certain hostile acts have been committed at random or were illegal, the fact remains that many Prop 8 supporters have paid a considerable price for defending marriage as the union of husband and wife. Indeed, no matter who is to blame for the hostility surrounding Prop 8, one lesson of Prop 8 cannot be denied: Individuals and institutions that publicly defend marriage as the union of husband and wife risk intimidation, harassment, and reprisal--at least some of it targeted and coordinated.
Furthermore, although some same-sex marriage activists have expressed disagreement with certain types of conduct described in this paper, few activists would disavow the ideology underlying much of the outrage surrounding Prop 8 and other efforts to defend marriage. Arguments for same-sex marriage, although often couched in terms of tolerance and inclusion, are based fundamentally on the idea that limiting marriage to the union of husband and wife is a form of bigotry, irrational prejudice, and even hatred against homosexual persons who want the state to license their relationships. As this ideology seeps into the culture, belief in marriage as the union of husband and wife will likely come to be viewed as an unacceptable form of discrimination that should be purged from society through legal, cultural, and economic pressure.
When people stand firmly by their beliefs about marriage as the union of husband and wife despite facing social stigmatization, economic hardship, and other reprisals, they provide an important example of civic courage and inspire particular virtues that are essential to the proper functioning of any free and open society. The freedom of parties on both sides of the marriage debate to voice their views and to promote them in public policy should be respected.
Thomas M. Messner is a Visiting Fellow in the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation.