What a Difference Six Years Can Make

Let’s hop in the Wayback Machine and go into the distant past, all the way back to 2008.

Here’s the question from Gwen Ifill during the Vice-Presidential Debate:

Let’s try to avoid nuance, Senator. Do you support gay marriage?

Senator Joe Biden:

No. Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage. We do not support that. That is basically the decision to be able to be able to be left to faiths and people who practice their faiths the determination what you call it.

A month later, Senator soon-to-be-president Obama told MTV:

I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage.

Let’s take the President and Vice-President at their word. They honestly changed their minds on gay marriage. They really were against it in 2008, and their positions shifted over the next few years. Fair enough, but two questions remain.

1. How can it be mindless bigotry to hold to the same position that our President affirmed until a little over two years ago? Almost every single vote cast for President in 2008 went for a candidate who believed in marriage as the union between a man and a woman. Nearly 70 million Americans voted for Barack Obama and millions more celebrated his victory as a proud moment in our nation’s history. Even if scores of these voters wished for Obama to support gay marriage, the fact is that he did not. And a majority of the country still voted for him, finding nothing so despicable about his defense of traditional marriage that disqualified him from public office, let alone that rendered him unfit for public life. If opposition to gay marriage is the sine qua non of unenlightened, intolerant, extremist thinking, then our President was a cretan up until 2012.

2. How can it be discrimination to do what our Vice-President affirmed we should be able to do two elections ago? Again, let’s allow that people can change. Joe Biden now supports gay marriage, when he explicitly did not in 2008. But what about the commitment to let people of faith practice their faith? Religious leaders like Rick Warren of Saddleback and Michael Lindsey of Gordon College are simply asking that faith-based institutions not be punished by the federal government for trying to hire people who affirm and live out their religious principles. Has so much changed in two years or six years that this is now too much to ask?

Of course, the answer to that question may very well be “yes.” Public opinion has shifted. Tolerance has become militantly intolerant. Every institution and every nation has its orthodoxies to enforce, and it looks like conservative religious persons are the new heretics. No debate is necessary. We haven’t lost the argument on marriage as much as arguments are no longer allowed. To say what our President used to say–and said explicitly while running for President–is quickly becoming unacceptable in polite society.

If bigotry is “the stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own” who is the bigot: the one who tries to provide reasons for his views or the one who says there is no reason your views deserve to be heard? If the President’s evolved position proves to be the new mainstream in our culture, is it too much to ask that the position he used to believe in be accorded the protection and freedom the Vice-President once alluded to? Conservative religious persons and conservative religious institutions could be embarrassingly wrong about gay marriage. But if they are, they haven’t been embarrassingly wrong about it for very long.