Even though we disagree on gay marriage and on gay rights more generally, I admire R. R. Reno’s honesty and integrity in his writing about these issues, and I read what he says with care and appreciation. However, I was surprised by his dismissive remarks regarding the aims of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (“Public Square,” January).
While he has “no doubt that in many circumstances gays and lesbians feel put upon,” he also wants to point out that African Americans have it worse, that he’s “virtually certain” that obese people have it worse, and that smokers have it worse. It’s therefore important to put the “feelings” of people who allege mistreatment “in perspective,” since, after all, “everybody has a grievance, some imagined, others justified.”
First, arguing that Sally should not complain of mistreatment because Sue has it worse is not likely to be persuasive to Sally. Nor is Sally likely to be persuaded by Reno’s other main point, which is that there aren’t many people like Sally. Moreover, as questions of moral and legal reasoning, should such arguments persuade her? I don’t think so.
Second, such seemingly blithe comments about the possible mistreatment of others can’t be entirely separated from their larger contexts. Reno does not answer the question directly, but his argument clearly suggests that he views this proposed non-discrimination measure as unnecessary and perhaps harmful. And perhaps he holds this view at least in part because he endorses, and aims publicly to advance, the view that all homosexual conduct is inherently immoral and therefore unworthy of nearly any form of specific legal protection or recognition.
And perhaps this view, which until fairly recently was dominant in American culture and law, and which still exercises influence (in, for example, significant publications such as First Things), helps to explain why many gays and lesbians still, as Reno says, “feel put upon.” Even if obese people have it worse.
Institute for American Values
New York, New York
R. R. Reno replies:
To be put upon. It’s a widespread feeling, a widespread reality. However, political wisdom involves knowing what diseases the law can cureand when the cures are worse than the diseases.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent legislation, executive policy, and judicial expansion mobilized the power of the state to effectively crush racist practices, especially in the South. Some at the time feared that the instruments of remedyintrusive, coercive, punitivewere in excess of the injustice of racism. But police dogs, water hoses, churches bombed, children killed, and all this against the background of ruthless segregation? Reality testified otherwise, and political wisdom dictated dramatic action.
My argument against ENDA is not based...