The Washington Post over the weekend published a rather silly column online by Judd Birdsall, managing director of the Cambridge Institute on Religion & International Studies, asserting that opponents of same-sex marriage had reacted gracefully to Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court.
Birdsall asserted that groups like Americans United had unfairly tarred marriage equality foes as extremists when in fact their responses had been tempered. He noted my comment on Friday: “Today love and the Constitution triumphed over bigotry and religious extremism. That’s a great step, but no one should expect the Religious Right and its political allies to give up. They are already working to throw up as many roadblocks as possible to prevent LGBT Americans from claiming their hard-won rights.”
I’m not sure which cave Birdsall has been residing in, but it’s time for him to come out. He notes that groups like the National Association of Evangelicals, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued measure statements. That’s true. But there are some other statements Birdsall might want to look up. AU Director of Communications Rob Boston has been collecting them. Here is a sample:
* Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who earlier claimed that equality will “threaten the foundation of religious liberty, criminalize Christianity, and demand that Americans abandon Biblical principles of natural marriage,” issued a statement in which he fulminated, “The Supreme Court has spoken with a very divided voice on something only the Supreme Being can do – redefine marriage. I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.”
* Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker called for a constitutional amendment. Upping the ante, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said it’s time for a new Constitutional Convention. (Maybe Cruz plans to go for the trifecta and also overturn the health-care and housing decisions from last week.)
* Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver, in an audio clip, said “we cannot obey” the ruling. (It’s unclear how Staver plans to disobey a ruling that doesn’t require him to do anything other than mind his own business.)
* Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, was very unhappy. In a statement Perkins asserted, “No court can overturn natural law. Nature and Nature’s God, hailed by the signers of our Declaration of Independence as the very source of law, cannot be usurped by the edict of a court, even the United States Supreme Court.”
* Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association (AFA), was so distraught he made two statements. The first accused a “Rogue Court” of rejecting the rule of law. It asserts, “Sadly, our nation’s highest Court, which should be a symbol of justice, has chosen instead to be a tool of tyranny, elevating judicial will above the will of the people.” Wildmon later issued another statement that said in part, “I fear for our country, quite frankly, because this is a spiritual 9/11, I believe. We have said to God Almighty, We don't care what you say about marriage and your definition of what's natural and normal. If you look in the scripture, often times when God's people rebelled against Him, He turned them over to destruction. Christians need to pray for mercy and we need to pray for a revival in the land.”
* Richard Land, a former chief lobbyist for the Southern Baptist Convention and now president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, released this statement: “Now the battlefield shifts to religious freedom. Will the progressive, totalitarian and intolerant left weaponize the government and attempt to force or compel people to affirm same-sex behavior and relationships? Or will they respect the freedom of conscience guaranteed by the Constitution? These will continue to be questions for the coming generations, now that the high Court has seized the historic role of defining marriage from the individual states and stripped it away from voters.”
There were other strange reactions. A football player with the Minnesota Vikings decided to weigh in with his opinion that the ruling will lead to pedophilia. Bryan Fischer of the AFA went on a tear and tweeted these gems: “Great need of the hour: governors who will defy the Supreme Court, refuse to issue sodomy-based licenses in their states” and “June 26, 2015: the day the twin towers of truth and righteousness were blown up by moral jihadists.” Wait, there’s more: “June 26, 2015: I saw Satan dancing with delight, the day the music died in the United States of America.”
And then there’s the Rev. Rick Scarborough. Scarborough, a Texas pastor who is a kind of poor man’s Jerry Falwell, vowed that he and other pastors would set themselves on fire if the high court ruled in favor of marriage equality. (Not surprisingly, Scarborough is backing away from the claim now that the decision has come down. He was speaking metaphorically, you see.)
(In the midst of all of this craziness, I was amused by the reaction of one group, the Liberty Institute, a Texas-based Religious Right legal outfit, which actually tried to spin the decision as a win. Its rather curious press release noted, “As today’s Supreme Court ruling recognizes, Americans have a constitutional right to speak and act according to their beliefs.” That has never really been in doubt, of course.)
I’m just scratching the surface here of some of the more extreme statements. Folks like Birdsall may not like it, but the groups and individuals behind these comments represent millions of right-wing evangelicals and ultra-conservative Catholics.
And they sound pretty extreme to me.
But statements like this are just talk, right? Sadly, no. We’re already seeing resistance to the ruling. Same-sex couples still can’t get married in Louisiana, where Gov. Bobby Jindal initially announced that the state won’t comply with the ruling – although he now seems to be backing off.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has issued an opinion asserting that government officials may have a “religious freedom” right to refuse service to same-sex couples.
In Alabama, officials in two counties have announced they will stop performing all weddings rather than let same-sex couples get married. Roy Moore, the state’s infamous chief justice, says the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling is worse than 19th century rulings upholding racial segregation. (Americans United and allied organizations, which had already sued over the issue, are demanding immediate compliance with the decision.)
When the Supreme Court asserts the validity of justice and equal treatment and recognizes the indignity of failing to allow equal access to a fundamental right, it should be applauded by all rational Americans.
I don’t fear passage of a constitutional amendment. (The U.S. House of Representatives voted on a marriage amendment in July of 2006, where it fell way short of the votes requires for passage.) The concern in my comment cited by Birdsall is that the Religious Right and its political allies will now seize upon the Supreme Court’s clearly mistaken definition of “religious liberty” as outlined in last term’s Hobby Lobby decision to renew its efforts to hurt the LGBT community by trying to exempt businesses that provide services for weddings, housing, dining, etc. from public accommodation and civil-rights laws.
Finally, I always resist comparing Christian extremists generally with Islamic murderers, torturers and beheaders. However, to ignore the actions by some Christian extremists – such as the murderers of Drs. George Tiller and Barnett Slepian (among others) – and the harassment and bullying that has led to the suicides of LGBT youth is to ignore the atrocities that bigotry and extremism often spawn.