March 29, 2013 1:02 p.m.

Over the last few days, as the emerging national marriage equality consensus has become more clear, a number of social conservatives have begun suggesting they are now in a new and oppressive climate in which they’re no longer able to speak their minds about the immorality of homosexuality or why laws should discriminate against gays.

Or, to put it more bluntly, they say they’re losing their right to calls gays gross and weird.In a rights-based political rhetoric, everyone has rights apparently, even if they’re ridiculous ones.

You’re probably saying, cry me a river. And I agree. But I do want to note how rapidly we’re seeing opponents of gay rights refashion themselves into an oppressed and aggrieved minority whose right to self-expression is under severe threat. In a sense, this is no different from the standard rightwing memes about being an oppressed minority fighting the war against Christmas and other efforts of the hippie liberal majority.

But let’s not doubt the sense of cultural whiplash these folks are experiencing.

At a certain point during the civil rights struggle it ceased to be acceptable in mainstream political rhetoric to say that the government should privilege whites over blacks. It basically happened between 1965 and 1970. That obviously didn’t end the issue of race or racial discrimination or widespread racism. But, in public, it displaced it onto a different set of questions and policies, a different kind of rhetoric. Pity party notwithstanding, the folks who oppose full equality for LGBT Americans seem to realize that we’re on the cusp of a similar transition.

We’re not really close to there on marriage equality per se. But we’re getting pretty close on statements of opposition to marriage equality that contain any elements of denigration or animus toward gay people. And we’re clearly moving rapidly toward a point where the opposition itself will amount to the same thing.

One of the folks we’re talking about just asked me on Twitter, in so many words, What happened to free speech? Now if you don’t agree with gay marriage you’re in trouble? Obviously we all have free speech. But what people usually want with free speech is the ability to speak their mind and not have people think worse of them for it. And on gay rights if not quite yet on full marriage equality, these folks sense they may be losing that right.

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