The Law of Merited Impossibility

Blogger Rod Dreher formulated the Law of Merited Impossibility:

The Law Of Merited Impossibility is an epistemological construct governing the paradoxical way overclass opinion makers frame the discourse about the clash between religious liberty and gay civil rights. It is best summed up by the phrase, “It’s a complete absurdity to believe that Christians will suffer a single thing from the expansion of gay rights, and boy, do they deserve what they’re going to get.”

Alternate formulation: it is impossible that Christians will ever suffer the legal repercussions for opposing gay-marriage which they so richly deserve.

In my experience the discussion goes like this:

Person A: If gay marriage were legal, what possible negative effect could it have on anybody?

Person B: Well, say some gay-married grad-students want to apply for campus housing at Catholic University. CU, which is owned by the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference, would be forced to choose between being sued for discrimination and supporting sex acts which the Church considers sinful.

Person A: Noooo, sorry, I didn’t make myself clear; I mean, what possible negative effect could it have on anybody who isn’t a fucking bigot?

Goalposts, moved.

A creepy article in RNS attempts to outline the situation, but now not as an impossibility but a possibility:

It turns out that you are either for full and unequivocal social and legal equality for LGBT people, or you are against it, and your answer will at some point be revealed. This is true both for individuals and for institutions.

Neutrality is not an option. Neither is polite half-acceptance. Nor is avoiding the subject. Hide as you might, the issue will come and find you.

The author, a Baptist theologian I’ve never heard of, goes to point out that this is the direction not only of government and the Democratic party, but also the Republican party, the education establishment, and big businesses from computing to sports and everything in-between with the result that –

Openly discriminatory religious schools and parachurch organizations will feel the pinch first. Any entity that requires government accreditation or touches government dollars will be in the immediate line of fire. Some organizations will face the choice either to abandon discriminatory policies or risk potential closure. Others will simply face increasing social marginalization.

Oh, and the author considers this a good thing! The point of the article is to encourage religious conservatives to get on the rainbow bandwagon before the government takes away their institutions.

Rod Dreher of course is all over the article, since it confirms his fears, and he is a pretty high-strung guy.

The logic of both the RNS article and Dreher’s post are clear and correct: yes, the government and the broader society have made a sudden shift on issues of homosexuality and taken a rather extreme view on other gender issues, and yes, those new views define those who hold the older views as bigots who shouldn’t have rights. But it also tends to overlook just how ingrained religious liberty is into the U.S. legal system and tax-code. It isn’t the sort of thing that can change without a major overhaul of current law.

I do think the various churches in the U.S. will eventually be stripped of their institutions but it will not be in a systematic way, and I don’t particularly care if, say, Georgetown decides that being associated with the Catholic Church does not help its recruiting or fundraising drives anymore so they won’t bother keeping up pretense. Meanwhile with the expansion of the executive branch and federal bureaucracy there is more possibility for random and arbitrary harassment of all manner of citizens by mid-level paperpushers, churches and schools being no exception.





  1. Of course one’s view depends on how important or unimportant they find the enlightenment- but my perspective has always been that modern civilization is made on rights being afforded to citizens (without distinctions of hierarchy/class).

    1. I suppose that is one modern ideal and I personally like it, but since homosexuals are not a class I don’t see how it applies.
      If marriage is a contract for producing children then gay couples don’t have a right to it. If nowadays marriage is something else, then I don’t begrudge anyone the legal benefits associated, but I don’t see the point in forcing religious groups and affiliated institutions to go along.

      1. You’re missing the point. By granting (or not) rights according to personal characteristics, that in itself creates classes of citizens. The whole all people are created equal things is about that concept.

      2. In a traditional marriage regime, you would have had the same right as I to marry a woman and produce offspring.

      3. Yes, but that means the government is making rules according to gender. In essence that qualifies citizenship. That’s what’s behind all these battles we have today. If government stopped making distinctions, no such problems would exist.
        Voting based on gender? No it should be based on citizenship.
        Voting based on colour? Religion? Property rights based on race or citizenship or gender?
        All these issues are eliminated if we’re nothing but Citizens where the government is concerned.

      4. The government cannot be blind to sex in this case because it takes a man and woman to reproduce. Therefore a contract enforced by courts to guarantee a stable relationship for the production and education of children is special to them. There is no injustice in saying two men or two women can’t form a contract to produce children.
        Now, since there are other reasons to marry besides just the production of children, and since some people who marry are incapable of having children, the state would just turn a blind eye to whether or not any children were actually produced – why invade people’s privacy.
        The big change comes with the advent of the pill, sterilization, and to a lesser extent no-fault divorce: children stopped being seen as the natural and normal consequence of marriage and suddenly gay couples could say “hey, what about us?” Only once marriage stopped being a future-oriented contract about children and became “an expression of love” (per the U.S. supreme court) or a convenient way to manage finances could the concept of gay marriage come into play.

      5. That’s the opposite of the conclusions they came to in the enlightenment. The same laws for all. All laws designed so they applied to all people. And the creation of rather brilliant systems in which those laws could be applied. Socio-political and legal.
        You’re making a case for hierarchy of citizenship, or in other words aristocracy. That may suit some groups in some cases, but never all groups in all cases.

      6. You are advocating that the gov’t ignore physical realities and treat people as disembodied spirits, which I am sure you don’t believe in.
        What has happened to marriage is not that it was for all eternity a mean straight-couples only club now open to gay couples, but rather it once had one meaning by which it was perfectly rational that it be between a man and woman, and now it has a different meaning by which it makes no difference who contracts it.
        Gay people have always had the right to marry – members of the opposite sex that is, because marriage was about procreation and the individual’s personal tastes were nobody else’s business and not considered very important compared to the urgent matter of preserving the species and family line. Nowadays that marriage is no longer about procreation, well, whatever.
        I personally don’t begrudge anyone the legal protections a contemporary marriage contract affords. I’m glad you have that protection. But what gay marriage represents on a civilizational level is the final death thro of one way of understanding sex and family and enshrining in law a very different one, one which we have no idea if it will be functional or not.

      7. Now you see, you’re just repeating arguments that have been dismissed by the best minds in the world.
        I’ve never been interested in foolishness. Gay people have always had the right to marry people they don’t want to marry? Come on. We’re not 12 years old. You’re not Insanitybytes and I’m not Violetwisp.
        There’s nothing stopping an LGBT couple from making a substantial contribution to society. All without having six children living on food stamps and in government housing. You’re welcome.
        When you’re ready to continue this discussion seriously, I’m happy to continue.

      8. Meh. Made perfect sense to me. Most people were in arranged marriages so personal taste didn’t enter into it much.
        I won’t force the conversation but just to clarify I never said a gay couple can make “no contribution to society”.

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