U.S. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia is not a man who I often find myself in agreement with. That said, I do think a recent comment of his was both true and important. Opponents of gay marriage in the United States are seeking to have their identities kept secret, because they fear that they will suffer for their views. In response, Scalia said that: “The fact is, running a democracy takes a certain amount of civic courage.” He also said that: “you can’t run a democracy this way, with everybody being afraid of having his political positions known.”
Certainly, it is grossly inappropriate for people to be threatening the personal security of those who oppose gay marriage. That being said, having an active and effective public debate over issues of policy and law does require people to openly and honestly express their views. Furthermore, in a free and democratic society, we retain the right to reach judgments about people on the basis of their views. It is perfectly legitimate for me to think that someone is bad at evaluating complex information, because they are a climate change denier. Similarly, it seems legitimate to say that those who do not support equal rights for gay couples don’t really take human rights or the concept of equal treatment under the law seriously.
Whether you agree or disagree with that specific perspective, I think Scalia’s argument that society benefits when people declare their positions honestly and publicly is a strong one. Serious politics, based around competing ideas, relies on that sort of open discussion and debate. The alternative is a shadowy political world in which people try to advance their preferences obliquely, using whatever underhanded techniques might be effective.