What's Tony Thinking

The Cake Case


I’m almost certainly swimming against the tide of my own liberal crowd, but I wish we weren’t thrashing out such issues as whether or not bakers can refuse to bake cakes for gay couples in court.

Not everything lends itself to resolution in the courts or by legal means. In fact, there’s a sense is way little is “resolved” by this route, as it is by definition adversarial and there are winners and losers. If it is the unavoidable route in some cases, going to court is clearly an overused recourse today.

The case of the Colorado baker who declined to make a cake for two men was argued before the Supreme Court last week. I heard the men who brought the suit speak of their “painful humiliation” on being refused service. They indicated that they brought the suit “to protect others from such public humiliation.”

Well, I don’t know. That seems a bit of a stretch to me.

Legal protections against discrimination in housing and employment? By all means. But wedding cakes can be overlooked and worked around. The real problem is that this kind of case confirms all the fears of cultural conservatives that “government” is out to destroy their way of life. It creates a cause celebre, which galvanizes the aggrieved even more.

I agree with Ross Douthat that we are a diverse, pluralistic nation and sometimes — maybe a lot of times — pluralism means we have to live with people with whom we do not agree. Liberals ask that of conservatives. The traffic on that bridge is two-way. While I have come to support gay marriage, I’ve long thought it a mistake to label all of those who do not as “haters” or “homophobes.” I know some of those folks. That’s just not the case. They see it differently.

While a nut-case like Roy Moore would shove his views down the throats of other people, most of those I know who hold a more traditional idea of marriage don’t want to change me. But neither do they want other people insist that they must change or be legally compelled to fall in line.

One of the problems with identity politics and it’s commitment to the idea that “the personal is political” is that it raises the stakes so darn high. Our view of marriage or gender roles becomes a matter of life and death. When identity politics is our primary way of being political  a disagreement is readily construed as, “denying my very identity and right-to-exist.” Calm down. I don’t think much of the theology, such as it is, of The Latter Day Saints. But I’m quite content to let them believe it.

Right now we are a very deeply polarized nation with those on each side tending to view the other side as wanting to destroy them and their way of life. But pluralism really does mean that we live with people who see life and live life differently than we do.

I have found John Inazu’s book Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving through Deep Difference quite helpful on these matters and I recommend it. Writes Inazu, “The tolerance of confident pluralism does not impose the fiction that all ideas are equally valid or morally harmless. It does require respecting people, aiming for fair discussion, and allowing for the space to differ about serious matters.”

We need more, not less, space to “differ about serious matters.”


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