As the prospect of more gay and lesbian couples marrying in California looms in the coming days, the religious right’s hand-wringing is becoming more and more overwrought. When Judge Vaughn Walker’s stay of his decision to overturn the approval of Proposition 8 (which outlawed marriage equality in the state in November 2008) expires this week, those who oppose such unions are now ominously warning that the ruling will “criminalize Christian beliefs.”
Mathew Staver, dean of the Liberty University Law School and chairman of the Orlando-based Liberty Counsel told CNS News:
For this judge to say that Christian beliefs or religious beliefs contrary to homosexuality are actually harmful—what that essentially says is, that if that’s the case, then you’ve got to change your religious beliefs, and if you don’t, you’re going to be penalized as result. That is a very dangerous aspect of this court decision.
Actually, Judge Walker’s ruling doesn’t say any of that. While the judge acknowledges that religious beliefs have been harmful to gays and lesbians by spreading misinformation and fostering prejudices against them, he in no way even suggests that one must “change your religious beliefs” or be “penalized.”
Religious people will always be free to believe homosexuality is sinful, just as some religious people still believe the mixing of the races is against God’s will, or that God commands women to be subservient to men, or that the earth is flat. No one has, or will, outlaw a religious person’s right to their beliefs, no matter how much they may be at odds with mainstream belief. But, once the religious right gets on a slippery slope there’s no stopping them until they finish their flume ride of hysteria.
Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention, asserts that preaching against homosexuality isn’t “hate speech,” which he fails to note, was not something Walker called it, either. Yet, he must first construct the straw man before knocking it down:
“It is quite clear that God condemns same-sex relations as particularly abhorrent. And if that is indeed the case, and we believe it is, it is an act of love towards those who are engaged in such relationships to tell them that they are violating the most sacred laws of God,” he said. “It would be indifference—or worse—to not tell them.”
What Land and his cohorts fail to understand is that Walker has never said that people don’t have the right to believe that their religious beliefs teach that homosexuality is wrong. What they don’t have, however, is the right to use that religious belief to set public policy or pass legislation against people they deem “sinful.”
Religious people believed in separation of the races and forbade interracial marriage because they believed such a ban was approved by God. The Supreme Court ruled in the 1967 Loving v. Virginia case that such a belief is not sufficient grounds for making law. It is the same in the Prop. 8 case.
Alas, some conservatives have seen the writing on the wall and are ready to concede California to the devil rather than take the chance of a SCOTUS decision in favor of same-sex marriage.
Mother Jones reports that David Barton, a religious right activist who served as vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party from 1998 to 2006, in an appearance on American Family Radio told his conservative comrades to let the gays win this one:
Well, I’m telling you, that’s what’s being argued by a lot of folks now… Knowing what Kennedy has already done in two similar cases to this and knowing that he’s the deciding vote, the odds are 999 out of 1000 that they’ll uphold the California decision.
If they do, there’s not a marriage amendment in the country that can stand. And so the problem is that instead of California losing its amendment, now 31 states lose their amendment. And that won’t happen if California doesn’t appeal its decision. It’s just California that loses its amendment.
Over at Red State, Christian Bentzen agrees that this battle is most likely lost and should be abandoned since it seems that public opinion will surpass religious disgust soon enough and deprive the conservatives of the gay marriage wedge issue.
It wasn’t too long ago that opposition to gay marriage was so powerful an issue that Republicans unequivocally turned to it as a means to energize conservative voters. Yet today, as the party contemplates the task of determining its future and its place in American politics, many Republicans say the issue of gay marriage may be turning into more of a hindrance to success than an ally.
Land and others would do well to listen to this faction. Those who used religion to support slavery, the subjugation of women, and the separation of the races all wound up on the wrong side of history. Bentzen reminds them they’re headed down that same road now:
The consequence of their reaction to the recent ruling is that conservatives may be planting the seeds of their own demise (as the polls have indicated) and find themselves on the wrong side of civil rights history.