I recently heard on the radio a conservative commentator saying that conservatives in America now feel that ‘liberal values are being shoved down their throat.’ He complained that if one cannot even take a stance against gay marriage for the fear of being mobbed by the liberals and labeled as a bigot, then there was a problem.
My students from the Midwest, many of whom come from a conservative background, also echoed this sentiment. Citing a cake maker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple and eventually won a lawsuit against him, they questioned: ‘How can we be tolerant and accommodating of other beliefs, without ignoring our own?’
America indeed had become more and more ‘liberal’ over the last decades — you determined what was true for yourself and the society was to respect and embrace that as an individual choice. That included how you defined your own gender and the choice of whom you wanted to marry.
What was considered a ‘progress’ by the liberals, however, apparently was not considered a ‘progress’ by the conservatives. In fact, the conservatives viewed it as a ‘loss of morales’ that needed to be restored, and conservative politicians were now busy undoing what was achieved by the liberals.
But what if what was established over the last decades was neither liberal nor conservative, but strengthening of the values of equality, inclusion, equality, tolerance and pluralism upheld by the society as a whole?
Underneath the unifying values of equality, inclusion, tolerance and pluralism, people who hold different beliefs can be accommodated and included — including conservative and liberal values, and anything in between. This seemed to be in need of a reminder as America remains deeply polarized and fractured along bipartisan lines. If the society kept going through pendulum swings between being liberal and being conservative, it would go nowhere since one would be busy undoing what the other has done.
If the choice to choose whoever one wants to marry as well as the choice to be against gay marriage were both upheld as an ‘individual choice’, the society protected individual choice — what one chooses to believe — rather than prescribing the content of what one should believe — to be for or against gay marriage. And by creating a law that allows gay marriage, those who chose to marry the same-sex partner were now protected to make that individual choice, alongside those who were already protected by law to marry partners of opposite sex.
A ‘progress’, in this sense, was not about making the society either more liberal or more conservative. Rather, ‘progress’ was about creating room for a spectrum of different beliefs to be accommodated, honored and included. This implied that neither liberal nor conservative ethos were to have a ‘dominance’ over the other, but both liberal and conservative views, and anything in between, were to be equally respected and accommodated.
If conservatives felt that they would be mobbed for holding conservative beliefs, it was equally problematic if liberals felt that they couldn't be the truth of who they were for the fear of not being accepted by the society. If conservatives and liberals shared a vision of a society where a spectrum of different beliefs can be honored, respected and accommodated and the society protects that individual choice, then there was hope for progress — 'progress' defined by creating a society that upholds and cherishes the values of inclusion, tolerance and equality — that allows individuals to believe what they want to believe.