About That “Pledge in Solidarity to Defend Marriage”

A group of religious right activists (and a couple of presidential hopefuls) have signed a “Pledge in Solidarity to Defend Marriage,” in which they “warn” the highest court in the land that they plan to resist if it strikes down same-sex marriage bans as unconstitutional.

The pledge makes the now (sadly) common comparison between religious right activists protesting what they claim are the trampled civil rights of marriage equality opponents and Martin Luther King, Jr. If they don’t quite envision themselves penning another Letter from a Birmingham Jail, they do picture themselves sitting in jail due to the supposedly heavy hand of a religion-hostile government, and fighting a cause they claim is equal to that of King’s still-unfulfilled dream.

But the authors of this “pledge” don’t stop with the King comparison. As the nation has watched the deaths of Michael Brown, of Freddie Gray, of Tamir Rice, and of far too many others, these self-styled civil rights champions liken a possible Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage equality to the Dred Scott decision. That’s right, while young, black, unarmed men are disproportionately brutalized by law enforcement, these defenders of “life” compare the dehumanization of black people to some imagined infringement of their rights should gays and lesbians be granted the right to get married.

“We will view any decision by the Supreme Court or any court the same way history views the Dred Scott,” the pledge reads, referring to the 1857 Supreme Court case holding that African Americans could not be citizens because they were “beings of an inferior order.” The pledge claims a “decision purporting to redefine marriage flies in the face of the Constitution and is contrary to the natural created order,” just as the Court wrongly “redefined” what it is to be human in Dred Scott. (Don’t worry, I don’t get it, either.) Because “no civil institution, including the United States Supreme Court or any court, has authority to redefine marriage,” the pledge goes on, “as people of faith we pledge obedience to our Creator when the State directly conflicts with higher law.”

This is not unfamiliar territory for one of the pledge’s key drafters, Matthew Staver, of Liberty Counsel, a religious right law firm. As I reported in 2011, as a professor and dean at Liberty University Law School, Staver taught students that “when faced with a conflict between ‘God’s law’ and ‘man’s law,’ they should resolve that conflict through ‘civil disobedience.’” One former student described this highly unusual legal pedagogy as, “for instance, if you have a court order against you that is in violation of what you see as God’s law,” that “civil disobedience” is required.

As Ed Kilgore reports, Staver told Fox News personality Todd Starnes that people “need to resist that ruling [on same-sex marriage] in every way possible. In a peaceful way—they need to resist it as much as Martin Luther King, Jr. resisted unjust laws in his time.”

What does that look like? Not just sending a “regrets” card in response to an invitation to your neighbor’s gay wedding, or even marching in opposition to a court decision (neither of which would in any way mimic King-esque activism). As I reported in that 2011 story, Staver cited to his students an example of one of his own clients, Lisa Miller, an “ex-lesbian” charged with kidnapping her daughter to avoid complying with a court order awarding custody to her ex-partner:

This student and two others, who all requested anonymity for fear of reprisal by Staver (who is also the law school’s dean), recounted the classroom discussion of civil disobedience, as well as efforts to draw comparisons between choosing “God’s law” over “man’s law” to the American revolution and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. According to one student, in the Foundations course both Staver and Lindevaldsen “espoused the opinion that in situations where God’s law is in direct contradiction to man’s law, we have an obligation to disobey it.”

Deborah Cantrell, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Law, and an expert in both legal ethics and family law, said that discussions of civil disobedience in law school classrooms must “be transparent that this is not a simplistic conversation.” She added that a law professor should emphasize that the discussion is a “normative” one, and that civil disobedience has consequences, including jail, and, for a lawyer who advises a client to disobey a court order, possible loss of their license to practice law.

That semester’s midterm exam, obtained by RD [see excerpts of the actual exam here], included a question based on Miller’s case asking students to describe what advice they would give her “as a friend who is a Christian lawyer.” After laying out a slanted history of the protracted legal battle, the exam asked, “Lisa needs your counsel on how to think through her legal situation and how to respond as a Christian to this difficult problem. Relying only on what we have learned thus far in class, how would you counsel Lisa?”

Kilgore is right that not every player in conservative Christian political activism signed this pledge. But enough major figures did that one must see it as a reflection of the views of a significant portion of movement leaders. Signers include presidential hopefuls Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum; Steve Deace, the Iowa radio host whose views on the presidential hopefuls are routinely sought out by reporters; Franklin Graham, heir to his father, Billy Graham’s, empire; the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Council, often cited as a bipartisan figure among evangelical Latinos; John Hagee, the leader of Christians United for Israel; and many other local and national figures.

At the very heart of this pledge is the claim that no court can trump what the signers claim is “God’s law.” At the heart of the pledge is not a plea for justice, but a plea for a legal system that yields to their religious views. A plea, in other words, to subvert the Constitution in the service of subverting the Constitution; to undermine the Establishment Clause in the service of depriving certain citizens, deemed sinful by a particular religious view, of equal protection of the law.

38 Comments

  • dkeane123@comcast.net' DKeane123 says:

    We are one step away from a ruling of gay marriage being viewed as Nazism and conservatives fearful of being tagged with yellow crosses. Oh wait, Liberty University already went there:
    http://townhall.com/columnists/mattbarber/2015/04/26/will-christians-be-fitted-with-yellow-crosses-n1990467

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    If they want to resist, they need ways to resist. So far they have no cake and no pizza. Does anyone have any other ideas? Can the Liberty Law department offer any suggestions here?

  • carole645@rocketmail.com' seashell says:

    The ‘pledge’ is exactly the creationist argument applied to the law, instead of science. Aiming it at the institutions of law doesn’t make it legal anymore than it becomes scientific when used against science. It’s still a fundamentalist Christian concept, based on fundamentalist Christianity, for Christians who want to instill God in our religious, cultural, moral and political life.

    So while the pledgers insist the term ‘marriage’ is not in the Constitution, the right to marriage is covered by the 14th Amendment. But what they overlook is the part of the 1st Amendment that prohibits the government from favoring religion over non-religion.

    Besides, what are they going to do – take their toys and go home? Works for me.

  • jrferris@gmail.com' John Calvin says:

    If we are wondering what MLK himself might say about this, we could pay attention to the words of his wife Coretta: “Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union. … A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages.”

  • robert.m.jeffers@lonestar.edu' Rmj says:

    The real question is: what leverage do these people think they have?

    King’s “direct action” was aimed at making the general public realize the laws were unjust. A similar argument has been made about the riots in Baltimore: that they are a reaction to an unjust situation. In both cases, there is action (civil disobedience, or riots) and later an explanation of the action (which may or may not satisfy everyone. One reason King taught non-violent direct action was to force people of goodwill to see what evil was being done in their name. It took police dogs and water cannons and beatings on camera, but they finally got their point across.)

    Who is going to beat Mike Huckabee or John Hagee or Matthew Staver with a police baton because they object to same-sex weddings? What form will their objection take? Protesting outside a church or courthouse? “Crashing” the wedding, which especially in a church, won’t make for the most favorable optics. Will they protest when same-sex couples, married, can adopt children? Will they show up at the time the family gains custody and scream at them as they drive away?

    Will they march in the streets, objecting in a thoroughly inchoate manner to a ruling that, if it comes, will be very little different in legal consequence from Loving v. Virginia, except it probably won’t take the country as long to accept this newly allowed marriage as it did to finally accept mixed-race marriages? Will they boycott churches they aren’t members of anyway, which solemnize such weddings? Attempt to boycott bakers out of business, or florists?

    Honestly, what power do they imagine they have? They think they are as moral as Dr. King and his followers; but having no sound moral stance, they have no real power, either. They underline the moral authority and validity of civil disobedience, by misunderstanding it altogether.

  • robert.m.jeffers@lonestar.edu' Rmj says:

    Well, they want to instill their “God” into our religious, cultural, moral, and political life.

    Dr. King wanted to do the same thing, but I’m quite sure he didn’t worship the same God as these people.

    Whether we allow any God into our RCMP (!) life is rather up to us, isn’t it?

  • uner1972@einrot.com' Frank says:

    MLK in response to someone who has SSA:

    Answer: Your problem is not at all an uncommon one. However, it does require careful attention. The type of feeling that you have toward boys is probably not an innate tendency, but something that has been culturally acquired. Your reasons for adopting this habit have now been consciously suppressed or unconsciously repressed. Therefore, it is necessary to deal with this problem by getting back to some of the experiences and circumstances that led to the habit. In order to do this I would suggest that you see a good psychiatrist who can assist you in bringing to the forefront of conscience all of those experiences and circumstances that led to the habit. You are already on the right road toward a solution, since you honestly recognize the problem and have a desire to solve it.

  • junesxing@yahoo.com' Jeffrey Samuels says:

    I foresee that these folks will advocate direct discrimination against married gay couples in terms of housing, family based services etc. When they get sued or arrested for breaking the law, they will have the ammunition they need to claim that Christianity is now being made illegal, so that they can foster even more civil unrest, until they get their way.

  • carole645@rocketmail.com' seashell says:

    Notice, however, MLK made no mention of God or abominations and looked at the problem from a psychological angle, rather than a moral or religious problem. Of course, in 1958, when this advice was written, the very best minds did see gay sex as a psychological issue. By 1968, the DSM saw gay sex as a deviant from hetero sex and left out any psychological mentions. By 1973, the APA and others just booted it out the realm of the psychiatric and DSM altogether.

    Context is everything, you know. This isn’t it.

  • eric.thurman@sewanee.edu' Eric says:

    This is a great response, but it will mean nothing to Frankie No Facts.

  • carole645@rocketmail.com' seashell says:

    Thanks. Is the same Frank that has numbers after his name?

  • emilyk04@gmail.com' Fired, Aren't I says:

    Yeah it’s the same Frank. I wouldn’t feed him as once he’s banned again his comments will disappear and it will look like people are arguing with no one.

  • emilyk04@gmail.com' Fired, Aren't I says:

    I think it’s bizarre and telling he says “boys.” First of all, in typical fashion, lesbians and queer women do not even register, let alone matter. Second of all, “boys”?? Because all gay men are pedophiles/pederasts? I don’t think so. This smacks of projection to me.

  • carole645@rocketmail.com' seashell says:

    Hi, FAI. I didn’t put the full context into my previous comment. Apparently, MLK used to have an advice column, “Advice for Living”, which is part of the collection located at Stanford University in the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute.

    The question MLK was asked addresses your comment: My problem is different from the ones most people have. I am a boy, but I feel about boys the way I ought to feel about girls. I don’t want my parents to know about me. What can I do? Is there any place where I can go for help?

  • carole645@rocketmail.com' seashell says:

    Thanks to both you and Eric for the heads up. Had no idea they were one and the same!

  • carole645@rocketmail.com' seashell says:

    At first I thought you meant the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and wondered how they got involved. Then I got it! Thanks for the laugh.

  • emilyk04@gmail.com' Fired, Aren't I says:

    I have to say, his response is remarkably sensitive by 1958 standards.

    Context is indeed everything.

  • dakotahgeo@hotmail.com' George M Melby says:

    Blessedly, that won’t work for them either. They need to understand that this world no longer runs on wooden wheels! We’ve evolved! Pastor Dak.

  • dakotahgeo@hotmail.com' George M Melby says:

    Hooper, butt out! This has already been dealt with by normal people. Pastor Dak!

  • dakotahgeo@hotmail.com' George M Melby says:

    Yep, the one and only Franko/Hooper with the 100 pseudonyms!

  • uner1972@einrot.com' Frank says:

    Yes all you have is trying to explain it away. You failed.

  • john.harvey@verizon.net' SgtCedar says:

    Shouldn’t a pledge to defend marriage be a pledge for marriage equality? I guess not for the religious right.

  • john.harvey@verizon.net' SgtCedar says:

    It is all part of Dominionism. The family (the religious right’s definition) is one of the seven mountains to be conquered. If you have to conquer something you do not already control it. Apparently they think they once did.

  • john.harvey@verizon.net' SgtCedar says:

    Few have worshiped the god these people do for something like 2,000 years.

  • uner1972@einrot.com' Frank says:

    The truth is inconvenient for you isn’t it?

  • carole645@rocketmail.com' seashell says:

    Of course. But those words only mean something to the people who are already aware (pro or con) of them. Fundamentalism is close enough and has a long and known history in the US. I just became aware myself of the ‘seven mountains’ thing within the last 6 months.

  • carole645@rocketmail.com' seashell says:

    Frank has had truth issues ever since someone told him the raisin cookies were really chocolate chip.

  • marciafsteiner@yahoo.com' MarciaX says:

    What King says here is no different from what just about any other theologically moderate-to-liberal Protestant minister would have said in the ’50s and ’60s. Most such clergy now support marriage equality, and it’s fair to say that King, ordained in the comparatively liberal Progressive National Baptist denomination, would too. At the very least, I see no particular reason to believe otherwise – do you?

  • uner1972@einrot.com' Frank says:

    No most clergy do not. The minority that do have succumbed to culture while deny the truth of God.

    No I don’t believe he would have denied Gods created order for marriage and sexuality. No true follower of Christ would unless they have been deceived.

  • odeliyab@yahoo.com' Liya says:

    Its Frank Nobrains now, he got married 🙂

  • fiona64@livejournal.com' fiona64 says:

    That’s funny, Closet Case Frankie.

    One of MLK’s closest advisers was an out gay man named Bayard Rustin. http://rustin.org/?page_id=2 Rustin was out when it was dangerous to be out. MLK wanted to march for gay rights, too, but Rustin talked him out of it because it would be harder to get his point across.

    Looks like you’re talking out your ass. Again.

    How goes your search for a teenaged beard? Any takers on that fabulous personal ad of yours?

  • fiona64@livejournal.com' fiona64 says:

    Did he finally find someone to be his beard? Wow.

  • fiona64@livejournal.com' fiona64 says:

    As always, Cranky Frank, you are incorrect. The majority of clergy DO support marriage equality.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carol-howard-merritt/clergy-support-marriage-e_b_494653.html?

    Your “no true Scotsman” attempt is noted, and dismissed.

  • odeliyab@yahoo.com' Liya says:

    LOL. persistence pays…

  • dakotahgeo@hotmail.com' George M Melby says:

    The ultra-religious, self-righteous extremists never cease to amaze me, a Christian-ordained minister of the Gospel! IF INDEED, they suffer persecution, it is of their own making and certainly they will be the modern day Zealots and Pharisees!

  • dakotahgeo@hotmail.com' George M Melby says:

    These christian imposters have NO leverage! Over anyone, except the fools who follow their darkness! Case closed.

  • dakotahgeo@hotmail.com' George M Melby says:

    Aka Hooper, and the 1000 sham aliases.

  • dakotahgeo@hotmail.com' George M Melby says:

    LOLOL… thank you! Or rabbit gifts… Frank/Hooper just LOVES rabbit droppings. He imagines them to be chocolate chips or raisins.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *