The Anti-Gay Right’s Response to SCOTUS Rulings: Vague, Threatening
The Supreme Court issued two anxiously awaited rulings this morning, June 26, 2013. The first was that anti-gay provisions in the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act," a 1996 bill that did nothing to defend individual marriages between heterosexual couples but inflicted incalculable harm on same-sex families, are unconstitutional.
In the second ruling, the Court ruled effectively upheld the finding of a lower court that struck down California’s Proposition 8, an anti-gay ballot initiative that squeaked by at the ballot box in 2008 and snatched the then-existing right to marry from same-sex couples in the state.
The Supreme Court is known for not getting too far ahead of the American public in its rulings. In 1986, for example, the Court upheld a Texas law against sexual encounters between consenting adults of the same sex; but in 2003, with public attitudes having shifted, the Court reversed itself and struck down "anti-sodomy" laws in all 50 states.
That historic ruling took place ten years to the day before this morning’s historic rulings; Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in that case, and Antonin Scalia, long an opponent of equality before the law for GLBT Americans, authored a scathing dissent on which, presciently enough, he envisioned one long-term result would be marriage for same-sex couples. (Scalia also authored a dissent to today’s ruling that found DOMA unconstitutional, writing, "We might have covered ourselves with honor today, by promising all sides of this debate that it was theirs to settle and that we would respect their resolution. We might have let the People decide.")
Though Scalia seemed, in 2003, to think that marriage equality would be a bad thing, for the nation’s tens of thousands of same-sex families the rulings constituted nothing less than another step toward full equality under the law. Of particular note is how same-sex couples will now be liberated from DOMA’s vicious deprivations, from tax inequalities to exclusion from pension benefits, to the extraordinary burden placed on bi-national couples of the same gender.
But even as Scalia was a high-profile dissenter in 2003 and again today, this decade’s most major advance, so far, for GLBTs also had its detractors outside the courtroom. As jubilant crowds cheered and applauded this morning’s rulings, family organizations and public figures who have distinguished themselves through their anti-gay stances and anti-equality efforts gave vent to their responses, sometimes in borderline threatening language that invited comparison to the very same lawless effigies the anti-gay right attempted, five years ago, to caricature marriage equality advocates as being.
Days in advance of the ruling, Mat Stavros, the head of the anti-gay Liberty Counsel Action, intimated to a Christian news site, One News Now, that resistance, perhaps of a violent stripe, would be the response from certain factions of the faithful.
"If the Supreme Court or any other civil institution seeks to redefine marriage into something it cannot be, this is a line that we cannot and will not cross," Stavros declared. "And we may be facing a clash of unprecedented proportions, but we cannot idly stand by."
Stavros was not alone in issuing his pre-emptive comments; indeed, the anti-gay crowd in general didn’t wait for the Supreme Court’s word before launching their attacks on the outcome. In an address delivered the day before the rulings, Bryan Fischer, head of the virulently anti-gay American Family Association, encouraged his listeners to refuse to act in accordance with any federal rights or benefits that gay and lesbian families might gain from the end of DOMA and the striking down of Prop 8.
Unbelievably... or, perhaps given the source, all too believably... Fisher’s comments on the Court’s ruling regarding DOMA and Prop 8 constituted a 180-degree turnabout from remarks he had made only a day before on another hot-button issue.
"Only one day after Bryan Fischer tried to argue against immigration reform that the law trumps any moral concerns one might possibly have, he proceeded to try and argue the exact opposite as pertaining to marriage equality," reported examiner.com on June 25.
Calling any ban of Prop 8 or rollback of DOMA a "setback," Fischer declared that, should the Court fail to uphold Prop 8, "you could just eliminate the first three words of the Constitution." Fischer went on to suggest that the only Constitutionally consistent response to a Court ruling that offered equality to America’s GLBT citizens would be to refuse to acknowledge the rulings and their legal consequences.
Groups opposing equality for sexual minorities on religious grounds also jumped the gun. Religious site One News Now reported on June 24 that more than "200 clergy and national leaders from different religious perspectives have declared war on the effort to destroy marriage."
The article went on to quote from a "Marriage Solidarity Statement" that offered anything but solidarity with the proposition that all men and women are entitled to equal access to the 1,000+ legal rights and benefits of civil marriage.
"If the Supreme Court becomes the tool by which marriage is redefined in the positive law of this nation, the precedent established will leave no room for any limitation on what can constitute such a redefined notion of marriage," the statement asserted. Some might interpret that as a coded reference to the frequently posed (but never justified or proven) claim by marriage equality opponents that allowing two people of the same gender to marry is somehow morally the same as legalizing a cornucopia of unsavory sexual practices, bestiality and pedophilia among them. (To be sure, Bryan Fischer lost no time in an attempt to link committed life partners of the same gender with child molesters and group marriages, tweeting, "The DOMA ruling has now made the normalization of polygamy, pedophilia, incest and bestiality inevitable.")
The canard of inferior parenting being the inevitable result of two life partners raising children also made an appearance in the "Solidarity" statement, which continued on with the claim that, "Conferring a moral and legal equivalency to same-sex couples by legislative or judicial fiat also sends the message that children do not need a mother and a father."
Faith-based prejudice was not limited to the pre-emptive responses of the purportedly pious. A number of officeholders resorted to religious justifications for their stated disapproval of the court’s findings, with Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, tweeting the Biblical quote, "Jesus wept" in one missive and expressing a hope for God’s forgiveness in another.
Others cited the passage of DOMA by U.S. lawmakers seventeen years ago, and professed outrage that the Court would have set aside that legislative action. None, however, followed up with the logically consistent suggestion that the Supreme Court’s 1967 "Loving" decision, which struck down laws nationwide preventing mixed-race marriages, was also out of order because it defied a product of the legislative process.
Though today’s Supreme Court rulings marked a new day in the annals of American democracy, the hallmark of which is universal equality before the law, little in the way of fresh ideas or new rhetoric could be found in the responses issued by the anti-gay right. Instead, the same arguments that had long since lost their power -- and their traction in the arena of public discourse -- held sway.
"Marriage was created by the hand of God," declared Michele Bachmann, one of several GOP contenders for the 2012 presidential race who signed on an anti-gay pledge in the summer of 2011, but who has since seen her influence wane and her campaign for the Oval Office come under investigation following allegations that her campaign broke finance laws. Bachmann’s remarks were quoted in a story posted June 26 at Advocate.com.
"No man, not even a Supreme Court, can undo what a holy God has instituted," Bachmann continued, failing to make a distinction between the sacrament of marriage as a religious rite (which the Court did not address) and laws concerning the legal contract of civil marriage.
"Today, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to join the trend, despite the clear will of the people’s representatives through DOMA,: Bachmann continued. "What the court has done will undermine the best interest of children and the best interests of the United States."
The Minnesota congresswoman’s message was riddled with factual errors and omissions, not the least of which is the tectonic shift in public opinion since President Bill Clinton signed DOMA into law seventeen years ago. Today, more than 50% of Americans say that same-sex families should be accorded legal status; the percentage is far higher among the younger demographic.
Bachmann’s claims also overlooked the results of the 2012 election, which marked the first time that anti-marriage equality referendums lost at the ballot box (aside from one election in Arizona), while pro-equality referendums won. By mid-2013, marriage equality had come to 12 states.
Moreover, every reputable study into the question of how children fare when they are raised in homes headed by same-sex couples has found that kids with two mothers or two fathers fare as well, if not better, as their peers with mixed gender parents. Studies also indicate that one crucial ingredient for children who are happy, well-adjusted, and scholastically successful is not one parent of each gender, but two parents who, between them, are able to offer the attention and support that children need.
Kansas GOP Rep. Tim Huelskamp similarly disregarded scientifically determined fact when he declared that America’s children would be denied the benefits of a mother and a father in the home due to the ruling, the Advocate noted. "The courts have allowed the desires of adults to trump the needs of our children," Huelskamp declared.
The congressman’s forceful words about marriage equality and its purported impact on children expressed no similar concern with regard to the fact that nearly one quarter of American children live in poverty. Indeed, federal lawmakers have undertaken efforts to override anti-gay and child-unfriendly laws in states where otherwise qualified gay and lesbian couples are prevented from adopting or fostering needy children, often from overburdened state systems unable to provide for them adequately.
The head of another anti-gay organization offered similarly vague sentiments couched in grandiose verbal dressings. Tony Perkins, of the Family Research Council, seemingly had no inkling of the overall trend toward inclusiveness and legal equality for America’s LGBT families. Stated Perkins, "Time is not on the side of those seeking to create same-sex ’marriage.’ As the American people are given time to experience the actual consequences of redefining marriage, the public debate and opposition to the redefinition of natural marriage will undoubtedly intensify."
One of the founders of the intensely anti-gay -- and profoundly misnamed -- National Organization for Marriage offered commentary that was so circular as to be meaningless. NOM was a prime mover in the passage of Prop 8, and subsequently worked to obstruct and derail equality for same-sex families around the nation. The manner in which those efforts were carried out, however, landed the group in legal trouble with election commissions in two states.
Said NOM’s Maggie Gallagher, ""At the heart of the gay marriage argument is an untruth: unions of two men or women are not the same as unions of husband and wife. The law cannot make it so, it can only require us to paint pretty pictures to cover up deep truths embedded in human nature."
In stark contrast to the nebulous and hostile comments issued by the fringe right, the Associated Press noted, several concrete and practical results benefiting same-sex couples and their children are going to be part of the outcome.
"The outcome is clear for people who were married and live in states that allow same-sex marriage. They now are eligible for federal benefits," The AP article noted.
"The picture is more complicated for same-sex couples who traveled to another state to get married, or who have moved from a gay marriage state since being wed," the article continued. "Their eligibility depends on the benefits they are seeking. For instance, immigration law focuses on where people were married, not where they live. But eligibility for Social Security survivor benefits basically depends on where a couple is living when a spouse dies."