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?

(If not, is it because you’re afraid they might turn on you?)

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.