The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 today that the U.S. Constitution protects the right of same-sex couples to get married. The effect of the ruling is to overturn all remaining state bans and to require all states to recognize marriages carried out in other states.
On the plaza in front of the Supreme Court before the ruling, the small handful of anti-gay protesters was overwhelmed by the hopeful, and then celebratory, pro-equality crowd. People carried signs identifying themselves as “Baptists for Marriage Equality” and “Catholics for Equality.” A person wearing a T-shirt from DC’s Wesley Theological Seminary carried a sign declaring, “As Christians, we are called to EVERYONE.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion includes only a short reference to the religious liberty battles that are bound to come. Kennedy writes that the First Amendment protects the right of religious groups and persons to “teach the principles” of their faith, but does not address the kind of conflicts over business owners with religious objections refusing to provide wedding-related services to same-sex couples.
The dissenting opinions from conservative justices were scathing, and repeated charges long made by conservative religious activists that marriage equality poses a threat to religious freedom. Justice Samuel Alito said the decision “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy,” and will provide ammunition for “those who are determined to stamp out very vestige of dissent.”
Chief Justice John Roberts addressed the religious issue in his dissent (with citations removed for readability):
Respect for sincere religious conviction has led voters and legislators in every State that has adopted same-sex marriage democratically to include accommodations for religious practice. The majority’s decision imposing same-sex marriage cannot, of course, create any such accommodations. The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to “advocate” and “teach” their views of marriage. The First amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to “exercise” religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.
Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage – when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples. Indeed, the Solicitor General candidly acknowledged that the tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question if they opposed same-sex marriage. There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this Court. Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.”
Not surprisingly, the reaction from religious conservatives and the Republican presidential candidates courting Religious Right voters has ranged from angry to apoplectic.
At the Right Wing Watch blog (a project of People For the American Way where I am a senior fellow) researchers have been chronicling some notable reactions, such as American Family Association radio host Bryan Fischer’s twitterfest declaring that Satan is “dancing with delight” and that “6/26 is now our 9/11.” The AFA’s Tim Wildmon made the same analogy, calling the ruling a “spiritual 9/11.”
Fox News’ Todd Starnes, who has been in full meltdown over the “cultural cleansing” of the Confederate battle flag, turned his attentions to the marriage ruling, warning, “If you thought the cultural purge over the Confederate flag was breathtaking – wait until you see what LGBT activists do with Christians.”
He said, ridiculously, “Pastors who refuse to perform gay marriage and preach from the bible should prepare for hate crime charges.” Franklin Graham also warned Christians to be prepared for persecution of God’s judgment on America.
The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins declared that “the Supreme Court has set our government on a collision course with America’s cherished religious freedoms, explicitly guaranteed in the First Amendment of the Constitution. Americans will not stop standing for transcendent truth, nor accept the legitimacy of this decision. Truth is not decided by polls or the passage of time, but by the One who created time and everything that exists therein.”
Conservative Christian writer Rod Dreher hit TIME magazine’s readers with the dramatic (if not melodramatic) declaration that “Orthodox Christians must now learn to live as exiles in our own country.”
True, the majority opinion nodded and smiled in the direction of the First Amendment, in an attempt to calm the fears of those worried about religious liberty. But when a Supreme Court majority is willing to invent rights out of nothing, it is impossible to have faith that the First Amendment will offer any but the barest protection to religious dissenters from gay rights orthodoxy.
Indeed, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito explicitly warned religious traditionalists that this decision leaves them vulnerable. Alito warns thatObergefell “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy,” and will be used to oppress the faithful “by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.”
The warning to conservatives from the four dissenters could hardly be clearer or stronger. So where does that leave us?
For one, we have to accept that we really are living in a culturally post-Christian nation. The fundamental norms Christians have long been able to depend on no longer exist. To be frank, the court majority may impose on the rest of the nation a view widely shared by elites, but it is also a view shared by a majority of Americans. There will be no widespread popular resistance to Obergefell. This is the new normal.
For another, LGBT activists and their fellow travelers really will be coming after social conservatives. The Supreme Court has now, in constitutional doctrine, said that homosexuality is equivalent to race. The next goal of activists will be a long-term campaign to remove tax-exempt status from dissenting religious institutions. The more immediate goal will be the shunning and persecution of dissenters within civil society. After today, all religious conservatives are Brendan Eich, the former CEO of Mozilla who was chased out of that company for supporting California’s Proposition 8.
Dreher renews an earlier call for what he calls the Benedict Option:
One can certainly understand the joy that LGBT Americans and their supporters feel today. But orthodox Christians must understand that things are going to get much more difficult for us. We are going to have to learn how to live as exiles in our own country. We are going to have to learn how to live with at least a mild form of persecution. And we are going to have to change the way we practice our faith and teach it to our children, to build resilient communities.
It is time for what I call the Benedict Option. In his 1982 book After Virtue, the eminent philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre likened the current age to the fall of ancient Rome. He pointed to Benedict of Nursia, a pious young Christian who left the chaos of Rome to go to the woods to pray, as an example for us. We who want to live by the traditional virtues, MacIntyre said, have to pioneer new ways of doing so in community. We await, he said “a new — and doubtless very different — St. Benedict.”
Throughout the early Middle Ages, Benedict’s communities formed monasteries, and kept the light of faith burning through the surrounding cultural darkness. Eventually, the Benedictine monks helped refound civilization.
I believe that orthodox Christians today are called to be those new and very different St. Benedicts. How do we take the Benedict Option, and build resilient communities within our condition of internal exile, and under increasingly hostile conditions? I don’t know. But we had better figure this out together, and soon, while there is time.
Last fall, I spoke with the prior of the Benedictine monastery in Nursia, and told him about the Benedict Option. So many Christians, he told me, have no clue how far things have decayed in our aggressively secularizing world. The future for Christians will be within the Benedict Option, the monk said, or it won’t be at all.
The conservative group Catholic Vote declared the ruling the “Roe v. Wade of marriage” and said the Supreme Court had declared biology, tradition, children and the Constitution to be “rubbish.”
For many in the LGBT movement, the marriage debate is merely a proxy for a much larger revolution underway. Their end goal is to destroy marriage altogether, including the family, religion, and any institution that proposes limits on human behavior, especially sexual behavior.
They believe gender is a social construct and that children should be brought into the world outside of the traditional family. For many, the idea that men and women are made for each other or that children deserve a mother and a father is a form of discrimination.
This is what the fight for marriage is ultimately about — and why it’s far from over.
Catholic vote has also released a new “coming out” video for people taking the bold step of saying the believe marriage is between a man and a woman, complete with a tearful “you are not alone.”
Not surprisingly, the reaction from Republican presidential candidates who are courting Religious Right voters was also swift, and often couched in religious terms. Among them:
“The Supreme Court can no more repeal the laws of nature and nature’s God on marriage than it can the law of gravity,” Mike Huckabee said, declaring, “I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founder’s acquiesced to an imperial British monarch.”
Bobby Jindal declared, “Marriage between a man and a woman was established by God, and no earthly court can alter that.” Jindal also warned of Christian persecution: “This decision will pave the way for an all out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree with this decision.”
Rick Santorum promised that as president he would use the bully pulpit of the White House to lead a “national discussion” on the importance of marriage. “I will stand for the preservation of religious liberty and conscience, to believe what you are called to believe free from persecution.”
And from Jeb Bush:
Guided by my faith, I believe in traditional marriage. I believe the Supreme Court should have allowed the states to make this decision. I also believe that we should love our neighbor and respect others, including those making lifetime commitments. In a country as diverse as ours, good people who have opposing views should be able to live side by side. It is now crucial that as a country we protect religious freedom and the right of conscience and also not discriminate.
Scott Walker reaffirmed his call for a constitutional amendment.
“the Supreme Court has set our government on a collision course with America’s cherished religious freedoms, explicitly guaranteed in the First Amendment of the Constitution. Americans will not stop standing for transcendent truth, nor accept the legitimacy of this decision. Truth is not decided by polls or the passage of time, but by the One who created time and everything that exists therein.”
Of course not all religious voices were objecting to the ruling. Progressive religious groups celebrated.
The Unitarian Universalist Association’s Peter Morales announced that UUA ministers will celebrate by offering free weddings in all 50 states and DC during a 48-hour marathon on July 11 and 12. The United Church of Christ declared that the denomination, gathering in its General Synod, will “celebrate marriage equality live never before – because now it can.” The National Council of Jewish Women was among progressive groups who looked ahead to working on equality for LGBT people, who in most states are not protected against discrimination in public accommodations, employment, or housing.
Meanwhile, Religious Right groups are planning a promised long-term campaign of resistance, which will kick off with a candlelight vigil at the Supreme Court on Sunday night.