DOMA and Religious Right Hypocrisy on “Big Government”

I’m confused. I got an email the other day from Tony Perkins over at the Family Research Council with the blaring headline “Stop Big Government!” Apparently, the Obama administration has plans to hurt good, God-fearing, heterosexual families by taxing the wealthy, asking people to use more energy efficient lightbulbs (which apparently means that every time you screw one in, someone loses a job), and trying to pass laws making it illegal to beat people up because they’re different.

But, then, I go on to read, in another email, about how Perkins and his religious right friends really, really, like it when government—big government—prevents two people from getting married, especially if those two people are both men, or both women.

The big government law they like is called the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. Written by thrice-married, then-Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia, the bill defined marriage as being between one man and one woman, denying federal benefits to any other form of union. The bill was passed in 1996, when no states offered same-sex marriage, so it seemed like a no-brainer (since it had no political backlash).

Barr later disavowed his support for the law and now DOMA is being scrutinized by a House committee. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has authored a bill to repeal DOMA, which has had deep and dire consequences for gay and lesbian people.

Ron Wallen, a 77-year-old veteran and resident of Indio, Calif., spoke plaintively in his allotted five minutes about how the 1996 law has cost him his home because he does not qualify for Social Security survivor benefits.

Wallen’s husband, Tom Corrollo, died in March of leukemia after the couple’s 58 years together. “I wake up in the morning, and forget for a minute that he is not in the kitchen making coffee,” Wallen said. “Tom and I worked hard, and together we tried to live out our own version of the American dream.  [ . . .] And yet, as I face a future alone without my spouse of 58 years, it is hard to believe that it is the American government that is throwing me out of my family home.”

Those hardships were brushed aside by religious right speakers, including Austin Nimmocks from the Alliance Defense Fund who made the big government argument, discounting “private” concerns of marriage like happiness, and financial security should one partner die. Instead, Nimmocks trotted out the old “fact that children are the product of the sexual relationships between men and women,” thus big government is needed to regulate this institution as closely as possible.

So, I’m a little confused—does the religious right hate big government or love it? According to Tony Perkins, big government is “intrusive” and “eats away at your freedoms”—yet Perkins has no trouble with DOMA that intrudes upon the lives of gay and lesbian couples and eats away at their freedoms. That intrusion and loss of freedom often leaves them homeless and in poverty because the lives they have built with their partners, often over many years, have no protection from “big government.”

The bottom line for the religious right appears to be this: “Big government is bad when it regulates what goes on in my wallet, but good when regulates what goes on in someone else’s bedroom.”

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