I have always envied people who are able to approach the issue of same-sex marriage as though it were an easy or simplistic issue. Personally, with respect to this issue, I have always wrestled with two very strong and competing political impulses. The first is an impulse borne of the belief that tradition is necessary to a well-ordered society and that absent compelling evidence, it should not be discarded. The second is borne of a very strong presumption towards allowing individuals to order their lives in the way they see fit in the absence of any evidence that doing so will harm others or society as a whole (and furthermore that the harm caused will substantially outweigh the benefit of the liberty realized).

I haven’t written about this topic in several years, and last time I did so, I came down on the side of tradition and against same sex marriage. Over the years, as states have allowed same sex marriage to go forward, my thinking on the matter has changed. I now no longer think the value of the tradition upheld overcomes what should be a presumption towards liberty recognized by the government in what are ultimately personal and private affairs. As these states have provided a “laboratory” of sorts for the effects of same sex marriage, it has become evident that the evidence that it is harmful or injurious to society at large is lacking and that it may indeed have salutary effects from a public health perspective.

Accordingly, I have come around to the view that conservatives should embrace the same sex marriage cause – with caveats. First, I strongly oppose the efforts of same sex marriage proponents to settle this issue in the courts. I take the idea of original intent seriously, and accordingly the idea that the drafters of the federal constitution or any of the state constitutions intended them contain within a right to same sex marriage is not a serious proposition. The various court decisions stating to the contrary are merely intended to mask the reality that judges perceive that they have the power to declare that any given constitution says whatever their feelings for the moment are. This judicial urge has been the root of untold evil in the last 100 years and should be opposed strenuously.

Leaving this matter to the courts will virtually guarantee that not only will same sex marriage become legal but also that, as Erick frequently notes, “you will be made to care,” as we saw the other day when judges declared that a florist who did not want to participate in a SSM ceremony was held personally liable for damages to the couple. Judges cannot (apparently) be trusted to understand the concept of what a sacrament is, or to understand further the concept of marriage as a sacrament, nor to appreciate the evil of compelling a private citizen to participate in something that is directly contrary to their understanding of salvation. This is a completely different issue from the question of whether a florist or baker should be free to outright refuse service to gay people; the question of participation in a marriage ceremony itself carries a special religious significance should be honored.

To that end, the same sex marriage fight should be engaged at the ballot measure or legislative level. Only in so doing can the right be specifically delineated to protect religious liberty. If left in the hands of judges, religious liberty will inevitably be trampled underfoot the first time an issue comes before a judge with anti-religious bias.

But more importantly, although I’ve come around to the pro-same sex marriage side of this issue, I’m infuriated by what has happened to former Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran. Erick has covered this issue exhaustively here over the last week so I won’t rehash all the facts in detail, but I’m appalled that some proponents of same sex marriage are comfortable making opposition to same sex marriage a fireable offense.

I understand the difficulty presented by this question. I don’t think it’s summarily out of bounds to fire someone for what they say or believe outside of work. I think definitely, if Cochran had been exposed as, say, a member of Westboro Baptist or a Klan member, no one would cry too much if he got fired, regardless of his job performance. I’d personally have a difficult time employing such a person regardless of how good they were at their job.

But having read the passages that Cochran wrote that were allegedly objectionable, I strongly oppose the effort to equate those remarks with Klan or Westboro Baptist rhetoric. What Cochran said, essentially, was the essentially mainstream Christian belief that homosexual acts are wrong – in exactly the same way that adultery is wrong, and sex before marriage is wrong. He did not say that gay people deserve to be discriminated against in employment or in any other way, just as he did not say that people who engage in premarital sex deserve to be discriminated against in employment or in any other way. And indeed an internal investigation conducted indicated that Cochran did not discriminate against gay firefighters in any way.

There’s a petty vindictiveness at play here in which proponents of same sex marriage are trying to win the debate by making their political opponents unemployable and unwelcome in polite society. And that is why, although I disagree with Erick about the substantive issue, I agree with his characterization of the mob that has come after Cochran as being functionally indistinguishable from the terrorists who attacked Charlie Hedbo – they aren’t using bullets, but they are using fear and intimidation of being completely unemployable to bully the other side from expressing their beliefs in public, knowing full well that the result of such a campaign will be total victory politically.

An America with a concept of liberty large enough to encompass same sex marriage ought to also have a concept of liberty large enough to encompass Kelvin Cochran’s Christianity. Those who (rightly) ask for liberty ought to be those who are most willing to extend it in return. And the failure of the movement as a whole to constrain itself in this regard is despicable and should be condemned.

I’m for same sex marriage. But I’m against what has happened to Kelvin Cochran.