And in those four weeks, some gay-marriage backers, feeling more than a little red-faced, have called for the zealots in their camp to get a grip. The treatment of Eich was an example of what happens when bad-apple activists turn crazily self-righteous, they say. British-American writer Andrew Sullivan says the witch-hunting of Eich speaks to the 'fanaticism' of certain campaigners, which apparently runs counter to the gay-marriage movement's desire to create a more 'tolerant and diverse society'. This week, prominent American liberals and libertarians published an open letter headlined 'Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent: Why We Must Have Both', which says the Eich episode showed the 'eagerness [of] some supporters of same-sex marriage to punish rather than to criticise or to persuade those who disagree'. 'Enforcing orthodoxy hurts everyone', the letter says, and gay-marriage campaigners must lobby for the 'freedom to marry' in a less hysterical fashion.
It is always refreshing to see people stand up for the freedom to dissent, especially on an issue like gay marriage, on which there's an astounding amount of nodding-dog conformity. But there is nonetheless something off, something problematic, something wrong about the past month's burgeoning critical response to the Eich affair. And it's this: it treats the illiberalism and intolerance hurled Eich's way as a one-off, an extreme case, an instance of 'some activists' going too far, when in truth what happened to Eich is entirely in keeping with the coercive culture of the politics of gay marriage more broadly. To view the hounding of Eich as an aberration, as a veering off the alleged path of diversity mapped out by the gay-marriage campaign, is utterly to miss the point – Eich's treatment is better seen as the logical conclusion to what has been a strikingly illiberal movement from the get-go.
This is the thing no one in the gay-marriage lobby, or in political and media circles more broadly, seems to want to talk about - the fact that in every jurisdiction in which it has been introduced, gay marriage has been heavily attended by authoritarianism and coercion.
Sometimes the coercion is soft, taking the form of what John Stuart Mill called 'the tyranny of custom', where those who refuse to embrace gay marriage - the most speedily formed custom of modern times - will be branded phobic and hateful and perhaps boycotted by agitators, pressured to choose between their moral opposition to same-sex marriage and their place in polite society; you absolutely cannot have both. And sometimes the coercion is hard, involving, in the case of France most obviously, actual state violence against opponents of gay marriage. But whatever form it has taken, coercion has been the order of the day in every campaign to legalise gay marriage, meaning Eich's fate wasn't some abnormality - it was part of a pretty scary 'new normal', of a sweeping culture of intolerance that has been fostered by the political set pushing gay marriage.
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It is odd that people should be so shocked by what was done to Eich this month considering that, over the past year and more, we've already had the hounding of individuals and businesses that refuse to go wild for gay marriage. Indeed, pre-Eich the US National Review published an article appositely headlined 'Support gay marriage - or else', which discussed the growing number of cases in which private businesses that refuse to cater to or work at gay weddings - that is, which exercise their freedom of association - are being threatened with punishment under hate-crime legislation. As the National Review said, 'refusal [to celebrate gay marriage] is now considered tantamount to a crime'. Eich's treatment only made more explicit this creeping criminalisation of opponents of gay marriage. In Britain, too, one of the first things secularist supporters of gay marriage did when it became clear that their new institution was going to come into being was to agitate against Catholic schools for failing to promote it. They accused Catholic schools of 'politically indoctrinating' their students by teaching them only about traditional marriage, and said such 'encouragement to bigotry' shouldn't be allowed. It was another attempted assault on freedom of association, another indicator of an emerging censorious hostility to anyone who doesn't embrace gay marriage. The mob punishment of Eich - and the stern warning it sent to other traditionalist-minded or religious folk in public life who might foolishly have been thinking of expressing their views on gay marriage - was just an extension of earlier moral assaults on any person or group that didn't fully buy into the gospel of gay marriage.
Critics of gay marriage have for months faced 'ostracism from public life', as the columnist Damon Linker put it - in an article published pre-Eich. As Linker said, there is a morally coercive streak to the gay-marriage movement, which seems to desire not just tolerance of its ideas, but 'psychological acceptance and positive affirmation' of them by everyone. To this end, businesses run by individuals who are less than keen on gay marriage have found themselves boycotted against, protested against, demonised by Twittermobs. Individuals who have voted in favour of traditional marriage in referendums have been denounced as 'hateful', 'brainwashed', 'knuckle-draggers'. American states that have failed to introduce gay marriage have had their tourism websites hacked and smothered in abusive commentary. The impact of all these shrill assaults on opponents of gay marriage, of this often media-led branding of critics of gay marriage as 'phobic' and irrational, has been to chill debate, to encourage one side in the discussion to shut the hell up or risk 'ostracism from public life'. It was only a matter of time before this striking unwillingness to tolerate the existence of anyone who isn't thrilled by gay marriage translated into the physical hounding-out of public life of an individual like Eich. The signs were there.
In some places, the mob pressure to silence one's moral opposition to gay marriage has been backed by the armed wing of the state. In France, mass protests against the introduction of gay marriage have been met with the violence of the truncheon and even the copious deployment of tear gas. Parisians who have gathered in public while wearing pro-traditional marriage t-shirts – which feature a man, woman and child – have been cautioned by police for organising 'unauthorised protests'. In the words of the Paris-based writer John Laughland, opponents of gay marriage are being treated as 'ideological enemies' by the French state, where 'every effort [is made] to delegitimise those who protest [against] same-sex marriage'. The moral assault on Eich can hardly be considered special, or especially shocking, when it springs from a movement that has already physically assaulted its critics.