Role reversal: Gay-rights advocates 'not tolerant'

By David Crary

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, June 11 2011 11:38 p.m. MDT

However, James Esseks, director of the ACLU's gay rights project, said the First Amendment protection of free speech only comes into play when a government entity is seen as curtailing speech rights — which did not occur in the Vidmar or King & Spalding cases.

"What we have there is simply the push and pull in public policy discourse ... which is sometimes rough and tumble," Esseks said. "Being stigmatized for expressing unpopular views is part of being in a free society. There's nothing wrong with that."

Robert George, a conservative professor of jurisprudence at Princeton and one of the co-authors of the Manhattan Declaration, shared Esseks' view on the often sharp-elbowed nature of public debate in America.

"Democratic politics is a messy business and sometimes it's a contact sport," said George, a co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage, which campaigns against same-sex marriage. He suggested that those who hold cultural power — in academia, the media and elsewhere — are inevitably going to try to impose their viewpoints.

"The power to intimidate people, to make them fear they'll be called a bigot or denied opportunities for jobs, only works if people allow themselves to be bullied," George said. "Conservatives who make themselves out to be victims run the risk of playing into the hands of their opponents, suggesting that their opponents' cultural power is so vast that there's no way it can be resisted." (George is a member of the Deseret News Editorial Advisory Board.)

To professional free-speech advocates — such as Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship — the gay rights vs. free expression cases are fascinating and often difficult.

"It's very volatile — it requires you to parse the issues very closely," she said. "I'm of the school of thought that you should know your enemy. You need to know what people are thinking."

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