Every four years, the people of the United States of America engage in a grand debate. The two major political coalitions in the country marshal their arguments and do their best to convince the people of America that their vision of the country is the superior one. At all levels of government and society, we argue about policies, laws and values. Each election, be it for a ballot initiative, state legislature seat or even the Presidency, is a figurative competitive debate round in which the two parties represent the competitors, and the people of America, the adjudicators. Earlier last month, a broad coalition of businesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Catholic Church managed to convince people in several states to pass initiatives and referenda limiting and removing rights from homosexuals. After a contentious air and ground war, they are hurt and shocked that anyone would call for boycotts of the businesses or charge them with bigoted promotion of hatred. They claim that this stifles their ability to engage in political speech or promotion of their religious beliefs. This claim is fundamentally wrong and demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the nature of democracy and free debate of ideas.
Liberal democracy requires and promotes a free and vigourous exchange of ideas. The freedom to say what you believe and act on it is one that only a few people in the world enjoy, and one that we should take seriously. It is these very freedoms that allow and justify the political advocacy of the Mormon Church, the Catholic Church et al. They are, and should be free to, say what they wish. And as we understand spending money to be a part of political speech, they are, and should be free to, spend money in support of ballot initiatives, propositions, referenda, etc. However, equally critical to the functioning of democracy is the right of response. Just as anyone is free to speak his piece and vote with his dollars, so to is anyone free to respond and vote with his dollars. It is this back and forth of ideas, proposition and counter-proposition, that is the very exchange of ideas that we rely on to make our democracy work.
Taken seriously, the anti-gay forces' claim is that no one may ever disagree with them or organize opposition to their political action, as it would have the effect of canceling out their free speech. Moreover, anyone who would not want to spend his money supporting groups with whom he has massive disagreements must continue to do so, as not doing so would discourage them from speaking up in the first place. To put it more bluntly, their feelings are hurt that anyone would disagree with them and they think that no one except them should have the right to speak or vote with their dollars. This kind of special pleading is ludicrous, and has no place in a modern democratic society. Any forum of debate relies upon the rules giving everyone an equal starting point to compete. You start equally, and then based on your talent, resources and luck, you do better or worse.
Anyone knows that debates can be contentious, but you shouldn't be awarded a win for being too afraid to speak in the first place. If you want an opportunity to convince people of your views, you have to accept the fact that people are going to try and convince them otherwise, as is their right. The desire of the anti-gay forces in America to silence their opposition and prevent them from speaking demonstrates the real goal: they don't want to engage in political speech or political action. They want to get their way, no matter how antidemocratic their methods may be.
The problems confronting America in the twenty-first century are numerous, and will require incredible amounts of hard work to solve. The path to a solution isn't always clear, as we have two wars, massive debt, unpopular bailouts and an economy that doesn't show any signs of having yet hit bottom. If we're going to pull out of the crises we currently live in, we're going to require an energetic and vigorous debate in which everyone participates. Even if they want to promote first century positions, the anti-gay forces in America should recognise that in the twenty-first century, they get no special privileges.