The summer of 2015 has been quite the roller coaster when it comes to LGBT equality. In June we celebrated the long-awaited verdict from the Supreme Court that legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country. But by July, a new battle had emerged under the guise of “religious freedom” and it appears to just be picking up steam. This is perhaps the last gasp of a dying cause to roll back equality, but it promises to be a big one.
The “religious freedom” movement first gained traction when a private business, a bakery, refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian wedding. The court ruled against the bakery’s right to deny service, much to the chagrin of many religious conservatives.
Then came Rowan County, Ky., Clerk Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples in her jurisdiction. When asked under what authority she was empowered to violate U.S. law, she proudly stated, “Under God’s authority!” (Apparently, God and the Bible looked the other way regarding her four marriages and two children born out of wedlock, but I digress.) Instantly, she became the hero to the vocal minority of Americans who believe the U.S. Supreme Court overreached on the marriage ruling. Now those angry citizens are loaded for bear. (I’m guessing otters and twinks are in their crosshairs too).
Many knew there wouldn’t be a ruling of this magnitude without some sort of backlash, but what’s interesting is that the actors and the structure of the fight have shifted. Prior to the Supreme Court’s June ruling, the battle was largely drawn along political lines. If you were a Republican, you were pressured to at best be indifferent on marriage equality, even if you actually supported it. If you were a Democrat, you were buoyed by President Barack Obama’s marriage equality position whether you agreed with it or not, and because you were a Democrat you weren’t really asked. The assumption was Republican = H8 and Democrat = NO H8.
What we’ve seen post-June 2015 is that the Republicans who always were secretly supportive of marriage equality but were pressured by regional demographics to have another position are now using the court’s credibility and ruling to say in effect, “My religious beliefs may tell me one thing, but the court has ruled and it’s time for all of us to accept it and move on.” Many Republican presidential contenders, such as Chris Christie, John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, and others, have clearly stated that this clerk had a duty to uphold the law and perform her duties or else she should look for another job. Others, such as Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz, believe she is a poster child for a war on Christianity.
The behavior of Republican politicians is nothing if not predictable. But what is surprising is that this battle is exposing elected Democrats who can no longer simply stay indifferent on this issue or hide behind Obama’s record as they are now compelled to carry out the law. To put it more bluntly, shit just got real.
Davis is in fact a Democrat. The Democratic candidate for Kentucky governor supports her actions and has actually said he wants to pass a law protecting county clerks from having to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if they have religious objections. The federal judge who sent Davis to jail for not carrying out her duties was an appointee of Republican President George W. Bush. In fact, the entire “religious freedom” protections idea stemmed from the bill President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1993. As an Illinois state senator in 1998, Obama also voted in favor of a version of a similar bill. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has famously supported states’ rights on the issue of marriage, which would ostensibly allow “religious freedom” laws to be used to deny same-sex couples the ability to marry.
The takeaway is the last big, big fight for LGBT equality will be fought increasingly regionally, and not so much within the two major political parties. For the most part, Republicans and Democrats who live in coastal states or large cities support full LGBT equality. It’s Democrats and Republicans who live everywhere in between who still have a way to go on these issues.
In the interest of full disclosure, I serve as the president of Log Cabin Republicans of Los Angeles. I know that my members and I are doing everything we can to build bridges and change the hearts and minds of those in our party. But as we’ve seen through these recent events, there is definitely work that our counterparts in the Democratic Party, the Stonewall Democrats, need to do as well. It’s each of our duties to make our respective sides better.
Building bridges with rational members of both sides will be essential, as the more significant takeaway of the “religious freedom” debate is the dangerous precedent this sets when we as a civilized society believe we can pick and choose the laws and court rulings we feel like obeying. There are and continue to be good people on both side of the marriage debate, but this is now heading down the path of anarchy. No one genuinely believes that if a Muslim county clerk had refused to issue Davis one of her many divorces (again, cited much more often as a sin in the Bible than gay sex) that any of these same actors would be defending that Muslim woman’s refusal to perform her duties. This is about their religious view that they want legislated on the entire country. The mullahs in Iran have this down to an art, so maybe we can get a “best practices for a successful theocracy” training manual out of the Iran nuclear deal as well.
We didn’t get to be the oldest surviving democracy in the world by disregarding and removing one of its main, load-bearing pillars. The belief and action that we can somehow now disregard the validity and role of the Supreme Court will prove much more destructive to the history and institutions of this country than anything we gays could ever do.