The Christian Right’s Reaction to Marriage Equality Parallels What Happened After Forced Desegregation

The reaction of the Religious Right to the decision in Obergefell has been entirely predictable. Rage and apocalyptic predictions intermixed with indignant insistence that marriage is still between one man and one woman. But for one brief, shining, rainbow-colored moment, it was okay. Love had won. It was the law of the land.

But this morning, as cities groggily awake from their Pride celebrations over the weekend, a survey of the landscape is a reminder of just how much work is ahead. This is bigger than the laughable social media temper tantrums seen hours after the ruling. We’re talking about states in outright revolt and Christians waving their victim flag high.

This shouldn’t be surprising. We knew this was coming. In some ways, it’s a less violent echo of the Civil Rights Era and the decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The Religious Right is not hurling bricks or swinging fists, but like their white supremacist predecessors, they have rapidly recast themselves as the “true” victims in this scenario. The most breathtaking part? They’re not running from those comparisons; they’re embracing them.

Fox News contributor and radio personality Todd Starnes wrote:

The Supreme Court’s decision means gay rights now trump religious liberty. And if you think the cultural purging of the Southern States has been breathtaking, wait until you see what LGBT activists are about to unleash on American Christians.

Forget for a second that the Biblical case against marriage equality is suspect at best. Cultural purging, for those who have forgotten, was the exact lament of racist opposition to desegregation following the Supreme Court’s decisions in the 1960s. Indeed, the birth of the Religious Right as a political force was galvanized by the forced desegregation of schools, and the subsequent impact it had on the tax-exempt status of private religious institutions that insisted on maintaining the discriminatory policies. In the wake of such actions, the bloc reared back and claimed victimhood.

Rod Dreher, senior editor and blogger for The American Conservative, makes it clear that he fears the same things will happen in the wake of this decision, lamenting the inevitable “exile” of the American Christian:

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.

I actually have to agree with Dreher here. Yes, based on existing case law, it is entirely plausible that tax-exempt status questions will come to light as the legal community parses this landmark decision. And advocates have already made it clear that there are dozens of other battles ahead, like passing a trans-inclusive version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. At a minimum, there will definitely be social blowback for those who insist on using religion to marginalize other people. That’s already happening. It’s been happening. But just as it was far from a bad thing when people were finally willing to call out racists for being bigots, I fail to see how it’s a bad thing here. Bigots should be made to be uncomfortable. And it’s entirely possible to be a Christian without being a bigot. This is not religious persecution; it’s a burgeoning unwillingness to accept intolerance.

But this isn’t Throwback Thursday in rhetoric only. Politicians from the Religious Right seem intent on repeating history in more explicit fashion as well. It was back in February that it started, with Alabama Probate Judge Wes Allen deciding his office would issue no marriage licenses at all if they had to issue them to same-sex couples. Mississippi is now considering doing the same thing across the state. There’s certainly an argument to be made that the government shouldn’t be in the marriage business anyway and that marriage-associated privilege is antiquated, but that’s not why this is happening. It’s unabashed bigotry.

And then there’s Texas, led by State Attorney General Ken Paxton, aspiring to be the Alabama of 1965. As Think Progress reports:

In a press release, Paxton encourages clerks to deny licenses to same-sex couples anyway, stressing that “numerous lawyers stand ready to assist clerks defending their religious beliefs, in many cases on a pro-bono basis, and I will do everything I can from this office to be a public voice for those standing in defense of their rights.” According to Paxton, “Texas must speak with one voice against this lawlessness,” referring to the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

Putting aside the fact that this question was asked and answered during the civil rights litigation of the 1960s (no, public servants cannot choose which citizens they will help), let’s look at just how startlingly familiar this language is. It mirrors the statements on desegregation made infamous by Alabama Governor George Wallace in his gubernatorial inauguration speech:

It is very appropriate that from this cradle of the Confederacy, this very heart of the great Anglo-Saxon Southland, that today we sound the drum for freedom as have our generations of forebears before us time and again down through history. Let us rise to the call for freedom-loving blood that is in us and send our answer to the tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South. In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.

It’s actually sort of chilling when you think about it.

It would behoove Paxton and his brethren to remember the consequences of Wallace’s promises and subsequent actions. It would serve Dreher, Starnes, and their ilk well to remember how the victim card played out for their predecessors. But again, if we’re looking at history and how closely the Religious Right is tracking with it in their attempt at a 1965 sequel, odds are they won’t. The question now is: how long before we see the National Guard in Texas?

(Image via Shutterstock)

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