First, let’s hear exactly what republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio actually said. In a recent interview with CBN news, Rubio stated,

“If you think about it, we are at the water’s edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech. Because today we’ve reached the point in our society where if you do not support same-sex marriage you are labeled a homophobe and a hater. So what’s the next step after that? After they are done going after individuals, the next step is to argue that the teachings of mainstream Christianity, the catechism of the Catholic Church, is hate speech and there’s a real and present danger.”

Is he correct? Yes. It is a real and very present danger, because it is part of a well-defined strategy. Here, a little history will make the danger more real and more present.

If we stand back from the present and take a wider historical look, we find that prohibiting hate speech isn’t something new. As Professor M. Alison Kibler has recently shown in her Censoring Racial Ridicule: Irish, Jewish, and African American Struggles over Race and Representation, 1890-1930, attempts to use the force of law to limit derogatory and demeaning speech have a long history in America. It is worth quoting her at length. As she notes in an article presenting the substance of her researches,

“Hate speech has been a century-long rift in American politics because it pits two deeply held American values against each other: free speech and equality….At the turn of the twentieth century, states and municipalities throughout the country banned ‘racial ridicule’ on stage and screen. Widely deemed to be separate white races in the early twentieth century, Irish and Jewish citizens joined African Americans in their support for the censorship of racist images in advertising, theater and motion pictures….Leading Jewish organizations, such as the American Jewish Committee, responded to the discrimination against Jewish vacationers in resorts and hotels by backing bans on the circulation of advertising that defamed any race or religion. By 1926, laws against ‘discriminating matter against any religious sect, creed, class, denomination or nationality’ passed in seven states, including Pennsylvania, New York and Illinois. Civil rights activists also moved beyond advertising to address racial hatred in entertainment. In 1907 African American activists in Des Moines, Iowa pressured the city council to prohibit any book, performance or play that was ‘calculated…to create a feeling of hatred or antipathy against any particular race, nationality or class of individuals.’ These activists were trying to stop Thomas Dixon’s play, The Clansman, which depicted Reconstruction as a period of mayhem and also valorized Ku Klux Klan violence as a solution to the threat of African Americans. Many believed that the play had provided one spark for the Atlanta race riot of 1906.”

I’ve quoted her at length for three very good reasons.

First, it’s clear that the notion of prohibiting speech that denigrates someone on the basis of race has a long history—and that’s speech widely considered to include not just words but images, not just public and political speeches but also plays and movies. Such censorship wasn’t just invented recently by contrived committees of the politically correct on college campuses. It arose to deal with real moral and social problems caused by racism.

Second, few in the debate about hate speech today would—waving the banner of free speech—want to go back to the days, a century ago, when the crudest caricatures of Jews and Blacks were freely-spoken and freely-displayed.

Third, it is undeniable that both public pressure on the part of aggrieved groups, as well as actual laws against hate speech, helped to get us from the situation a hundred years ago, to where we are now.

And now we’ve discovered the strategic reason why activists pushing the LGBT agenda have attached themselves to the historical legacy of prohibiting hate speech. They want to equate sexual desire with racial heritage, so that “I am gay” or “I am a lesbian” or “I am bisexual” or “I am transitioning between genders” has the same legal, moral, and ontological status as “I am a Jew” or “I am an African-America.” That allows their agenda to move forward using the already existing moral capital of the civil rights legacy.

As Emily Belz of World points out,

“If the high court says state marriage laws violate the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection and due process, it could rule two different ways. First, the court could say that gay marriage is a fundamental constitutional right. Or, the court could say that state marriage laws are violating equal protection, because they’re excluding gay people from the marriage institution. Both of those approaches would have serious implications for Christian organizations.

However the court rules on the 14th Amendment, the worst outcome for religious organizations would be if the justices decide that sexual orientation is a new protected class. Sexual orientation isn’t a protected class like race or gender at the federal level currently, and the lawyers arguing for gay marriage did not ask the court to create that new class. But the court could do so.”

It is a brilliant strategy to establish one’s perceived sexual orientation as being equivalent to one’s racial heritage. But, Ryan T. Anderson helps to make the clear distinction between race and sexual orientation in his recent Public Discourse essay “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Are Not Like Race: Why ENDA is Bad Policy”. In his testimony to the Commission on Civil Rights, Anderson warns that the proposed “Employment Non-Discrimination Act” threatens First Amendment rights by establishing new subjective protected classes based on ambiguous definitions of perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.

Racial heritage, by contrast, is a trait that is not subjectively defined. Anderson goes on to further explain how “sexual orientation and gender identity are conceptually different from race”.

“Martin Luther King, Jr., was entirely right in his dream that his children would be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. One’s character is comprised of one’s voluntary actions, and it is reasonable to make judgments about actions. While race implies nothing about one’s actions, sexual orientation and gender identity are frequently descriptions for one’s actions: “gay” denotes men who engage in voluntary s*x acts with other men, “lesbian” denotes women who engage in voluntary s*x acts with other women, and “transgender” denotes a biological male who voluntarily presents himself to the world as if female or a biological female who voluntarily presents herself to the world as if male. “Race” and “s*x,” by contrast, clearly refer to traits, and in the vast majority of cases denote no voluntary actions.”

The Christian understanding of human identity makes a clear distinction between the person and their actions, the sinner and the sin, and that is precisely what equating sexual orientation and “gender identity” (locating one’s full identity in the subjective experience of gender) with racial identity erases, creating the dangerous declaration “I desire therefore I am.”

This is key to understanding why Marco Rubio would call the hate speech tag a real and present danger to Christians. The current push to label any speech that is perceived as being critical of sexual orientation or gender identity as “hate speech” is part of a larger legal strategy to redefine those claiming a specific non-heterosexual status as an oppressed and therefore protected class—with all the attendant civil rights that go with it. The claim of civil rights permits them to use the full force of the federal government to silence all opposition.

Activists could attempt to use the full force of the federal government to uproot the speech of Scripture that pertains to moral boundaries on human sexual behavior by defining it as hate speech, speech that violates the civil rights of protected a protected class.

As Anderson argues, “There is no limiting principle for what will be classified as a sexual orientation or gender identity in the future. Indeed, Wesleyan College has extended the LGBT acronym and created a “safe space” for LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM: Lesbian, Gay, Bise*ual, Transgender, Transse*ual, Queer, Questioning, Flexual, Ase*ual, Genderf*ck, Polyamorous, Bondage/Disciple, Dominance/Submission, Sadism/Mas*chism. Will ENDA be used to protect these orientations and identities as well? If not, why not?”

This is the “water’s edge” Rubio points our attention toward.