05/28/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Gay Marriage And Nazism

It's an old political ploy. You're either with us or you're a Nazi.

"Once you inject 'Hitler' or 'the Third Reich' into a debate, you have evoked the ultimate form of evil, put your opponent in an indefensible position... and for all practical purposes halted the conversation," Anne Applebaum wrote in Slate.

Last week, opponents of gay marriage found their Nazis: the four judges making up the majority in the historic California Supreme Court ruling that overturned statutes limiting marriage to one man and one woman.

The Nazi boogeyman raised his head as part of a strategy by the conservative non-profit Campaign for Children and Families to push back against the ruling. The organization asked opponents to gay marriage to contact county clerks and demand that they continue to follow the invalidated statutes and not the court's ruling. And the group offers a rough script of how that phone call or letter might go:

"Ask your county clerk if they were a Nazi officer during WWII and had been ordered to gas the Jews, would they? At the Nuremberg trials, they would have been convicted of murder for following this immoral order...Likewise, the ruling to destroy the man-woman definition of marriage should not be obeyed," read the Campaign for Children and Families website as of Monday.

Nevermind that equating the horrors of the Holocaust to the perceived societal danger of allowing same-sex couples to marry seems just a tad extreme, the analogy doesn't hold up against the history.

The message with most "don't be a Nazi"-type analogies as used here is simple: don't blindly follow orders if you know them to be unjust or immoral. But the irony in this case is the Nazis - who persecuted gays and lesbians -- would not be on the side supporting gay marriage.

(This isn't the first time the Nazi smear has been used in the gay marriage debate. In 2005, the Anti-Defamation League admonished Virginia state senators Janet Howell and Mamie E. Locke, both Democrats, when they compared a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage to Nazi-era policies.)

There are elements of last week's ruling and its implementation that warrant further review, especially given the possibility that a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage is expected to make it on the November ballot and, should it pass, will render the ruling moot.

Just how the ruling will affect the ballot initiative campaign remains to be seen. Some think the ruling, which overturned a statute approved by 61.4 percent of voters in 2000, and the specter of "activist judges" will motivate fundraising and voter turnout among opponents of gay marriage. Others think that increased visibility will lead to wider acceptance of gay marriage.

"Once same-sex couples start to marry, Californians will understand that this is not about abstract propositions but real-life families," said Jon W. Davidson, legal director of Lamda Legal, in an opinion piece on

Maybe, as members of the Campaign for Children and Families and others are suggesting, the court should postpone enforcing the ruling until after the election settles the matter. But if the ruling should take effect and gays and lesbians start marrying en masse next month, can we agree that bureaucrats doing what they're told, at least in this case, are not Nazis?