How should we punish grandma and grandpa for opposing gay marriage?

Conor Friedersdorf, a libertarian and supporter of gay marriage who’s nonetheless horrified by the mobbing of Memories Pizza, wonders what sort of discipline the Lords of Tolerance have in mind for dissenters on SSM. Because the dissenters aren’t all white, rural, red-state small-business owners, the sort of person a committed SJW might be looking for a reason to stomp. Some of them are immigrants. Some of them are — gasp — black. Let’s lay down some rules, says Friedersdorf. What punishments are we imagining for felony thoughtcrime in refusing to serve a gay wedding?

The question I’d ask those who want to use non-state means to punish mom-and-pop businesses that decline to cater gay weddings is what, exactly, their notion of a fair punishment is. Nearly every supporter of gay marriage is on board with efforts to publicly tell people that their position is wrongheaded–I’ve participated in efforts like that for years and insist that respectful critique and persuasion is more effective than shaming. What about other approaches? If their Yelp rating goes down by a star does the punishment fit the “crime”? Is there a financial loss at which social pressure goes from appropriate to too much? How about putting them out of business? Digital mobs insulting them and their children? Email and phone threats from anonymous Internet users? If you think that any of those go too far have you spoken up against the people using those tactics?

A relatively big digital mob has been attacking this powerless family in rural Indiana, but I don’t get the sense that its participants have reflected on or even thought of these questions. I don’t think they recognize how ugly, intolerant and extreme their actions appear or the effect they’ll have on Americans beyond the mainstream media, or that their vitriolic shaming these people has ultimately made them into martyrs. I fear that a backlash against their tactics will weaken support for the better angels of the gay rights movement at a time when more progress needs to be made, and that they’re turning traditionalists into a fearful, alienated minority with a posture of defensiveness that closes them off to persuasion…

I’d be fascinated to [know] how many grandparents of mob participants oppose gay marriage and what degree of social stigma they would want directed toward them.

Ah, but what if grandma and grandpa are only pretending to oppose gay marriage because they want to be attacked by a left-wing mob and have a sympathetic GoFundMe page started for them? Bet you didn’t think about that, huh?

There will, I suspect, eventually be some navel-gazing among the media about the mob atmospherics in punishing gay-marriage opponents. Noah had a good joke about that a few days ago on Twitter: “Looking forward to the introspective think pieces next year on whether Memories Pizza really deserved total ruin over the online mob’s pique.” I’m sure there are some liberal/media consciences that are bothered by what’s happened here, just as there were when the left demagogued the living hell out of conservatives for their “rhetoric” after Gabby Giffords was shot. There were some misgivings expressed about that after the fact, as I recall — long after the fact, when the mob had dissipated and the author was at no risk in criticizing them. Same thing here. Expect some clear-eyed reflection from the media about the Memories Pizza saga circa late summer/early fall.

Contra Friedersdorf, though, I think most gay-rights mobbers do “recognize how ugly, intolerant and extreme their actions appear.” They just don’t care and they don’t feel they should have to. Some of that spirit of nastiness is revanchism at work, nicely expressed in cartoons like this and this that liberal trolls have been tweeting at me. Gays have spent centuries in the closet, afraid to reveal their sexuality publicly; now it’s time to wreck a few Christians’ lives in the name of rough justice, to see how they like it. Some of it is a tactical thing: If Memories Pizza took a worse beating than they deserved, well, that’s a lesson to other business owners who might be disinclined to cater a gay wedding, pour encourager les autres. And some of it is just the pleasure of cruelty for its own sake, aimed at someone whom it’s now socially acceptable (on the left, at least) to be cruel to. Ace has made that point too recently — beating on someone whom you’re convinced is immoral is enjoyable, especially in concert with like-minded people as a mutual affirmation of your own relative virtue. It’s a human impulse. To admit that the mob went too far would be to admit that the virtue gap here wasn’t as wide as the left thinks, which they simply won’t do. Like I said this morning, I think one reason Trutherism about donations to Mysteries Pizza has sprouted up is because it makes the abuse suffered by the O’Connor family seem less excessive. If this is just a scam they’re running, as transparently absurd as that is, then they’re truly bad people who deserved all of the nastiness. The conspiracy theory is a conscience-easer in lieu of an apology, which is unthinkable.

As for Friedersdorf’s basic complaint, though, about different rules for similar malefactors — one for the pizza owner halfway across the country, one for granny and grampy — I think the touchstone is the malice imputed to each class. Your grandparents aren’t morally culpable for their views because they grew up in a different age and they’ll be gone soon anyway. They don’t “hate” gays, they’re just products of a wider culture that was intolerant. (And they’re really nice in every other aspect of life!) Best to let them slide. The immigrant or black business owner isn’t morally culpable for his views because he comes from a victim class and consequently enjoys a presumption of virtuousness. If he holds retrograde views in some respects, it’s only as an artifact of the oppression he himself suffered. He needs education, not punishment. The hick in Indiana who thinks she can resist the cultural tide towards compulsory participation in gay weddings because she’s a Christian — she’s the one who needs, no, deserves, a snoutful of intimidation to make sure the majority concludes it’s in their interest not to resist. Punish her enough now and you won’t need to worry much about how to punish future holdouts. There’ll be too few of them to care.

Update: Oops, made a mistake on the name of the pizzeria in one sentence above. Fixed now.

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