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Monday, December 5, 2016

A law in Indiana and a bill in Arkansas making life harder for their gay neighbors have lost their wheels in a surprising smashup. Business interests, usually associated with the conservative cause, lowered the boom on “religious freedom” legislation supported by social conservatives.

But we are not here to discuss the Republican rift between economic and religious conservatives. Today’s mission is to narrow the far wider gap between liberals and social conservatives. It’s to urge liberals holding the fervent belief in the right to same-sex marriage to give the other side a little space to evolve.

Condemning these traditionalists as base bigots is unproductive. Liberals might borrow the sentiment religious conservatives have often applied to homosexuality: Hate the sin, but love the sinner.

Such laws are indeed discriminatory, and nastiness may propel some of their supporters. But many of the backers, though they regard homosexuality as immoral, are not especially hostile toward gay people. Some have been genuinely shocked to hear that they would be considered unkind, unfriendly, and bigoted.

There’s a tendency in our culture to cluster in communities of like-minded people and throw lightning bolts of disapproval over the walls into other like-minded communities. But where possible, persuasion beats condemnation every time.

The train to legalized gay marriage is unstoppable, so let it continue rolling at a comfortable pace. When Massachusetts first permitted same-sex marriage in 2004, pollsters asked that state’s residents whether they defined marriage as something between a man and a woman. A majority said yes.

Most of the respondents’ answers in 2004 reflected not an animosity toward gay people but rather a traditional view of marriage. A poll asking the same question today would undoubtedly find a majority in Massachusetts saying “not necessarily.”

To my gay friends who regard the ability to marry another of the same sex as a basic human right, I hear you. But you must concede that the path for widespread legalization of same-sex marriage — starting in liberal places, such as Massachusetts, and then expanding one state at a time as more Americans became comfortable with the idea — has been quite effective.

To my liberal friends of whatever sexual orientation, you and social conservatives share a few areas of common interest. This is territory you can meet on if you don’t employ a scorched-earth policy every time you disagree.

The environment is one example. The Christian Coalition of America has fought efforts by fossil fuel interests and utilities to slap taxes on solar panels. In explaining its position, the coalition’s president wrote, “We recognize the Biblical mandate to care for God’s creation and protect our children’s future.” Whatever the hearer’s spiritual bent, those words are among the most beautiful statements of the environmentalist creed ever made.

White evangelicals may be more conservative on other issues than the population at large, but 64 percent told pollsters for LifeWay Research that they favor comprehensive immigration reform. Some of their church leaders have been among the most vocal proponents of a humanitarian approach to fixing the immigration laws.

The battle against casinos seems a lost cause, but Christian conservatives have led the good fight. Gambling as a means to raise government revenues is immoral, they say, and one reason is that it fleeces the most economically vulnerable members of the community.

What liberals and religious conservatives share is a belief that many of our most important values can’t be measured in dollars. One can’t paper over these groups’ divergent worldviews. But while their advocates might not expect to embrace very often, they should preserve enough common ground to hold hands once in a while.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at [email protected] To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo: Beacon Hill in Boston, moments after the Massachusetts Legislature voted to reject a constitutional amendment which would have prohibited same-sex marriage, 2007. (Tim Pierce via Flickr)