This week’s 6-3 SCOTUS ruling to make sexual minorities a protected class has come as a shock to many American conservatives. With a majority opinion penned by Neil Gorsuch, the ruling is a blatant legal retcon that would have Justice Scalia rolling over in his grave. As a piece of bench legislation, it will have damaging ramifications not only for Christians, but for anyone under pressure to accept the full suite of increasingly unhinged demands in the LGBT+ agenda. It’s already been pointed out that this is a death knell for women’s sports, as “trans women” now have legal cover to infiltrate and dominate. Such legislation also brings with it the treacherously fluid concept of a “hostile work environment,” which can be weaponized to curtail not only the free expression of an employer, but the speech of other employees who might have conscience reservations about (say) using preferred pronouns.
For conservatives who agonized over and eventually cast a Trump vote based largely or solely on hopes for SCOTUS, this is a bitter pill to swallow. Memes mocking the line “but Gorsuch” are thick on the ground right now, and rightly so. One faint silver lining is that Kavanaugh voted with the minority. Having been fairly cynical about Kavanaugh myself, I gladly admit that I was pleasantly surprised by this, and I hope to be pleasantly surprised again in the future. However, as a general philosophy of SCOTUS judges, I feel vindicated in keeping my expectations low. While others are reeling in shock, I give a weary sigh and say “I tried to tell you so.”
However, it might surprise some that I don’t pin the blame for this on President Trump. Trump was never my champion and never will be, but as far as I can see, he did make a good-faith effort to appoint originalist judges. To the extent that he was able to seek advice and make inquiries, it seems to me that Trump did about as well as he could. The truth is that the President is limited in how deeply he can inquire about a prospective SCOTUS appointee. Trump did no worse than Ronald Reagan, or either of the Bushes. Conservatives sometimes forget that while it was Reagan who gave us Scalia, it was also Reagan who gave us O’Connor and Kennedy.
Here, someone could fairly point out that we would have been guaranteed bad justices under a Democrat president. I don’t contest this point. Nobody denies that things could be even worse. But Bostock should be a wake-up call that at best, a Republican vote is a dice roll. I deeply sympathize with my Christian conservative friends who have held out hope for a turning of the tide. I would like to submit, respectfully, that it is a false hope, and always has been.
This is a painful admission. Hope dies hard. Dreams die hard. The pro-life movement has to some extent been animated by such hope and such dreams. To admit that there is a sense in which the Christian conservative’s cause has been a lost cause for decades is difficult to say out loud without simply being crushed. “What is the goal then?” one could fairly ask. “What are we trying to fight for?”
I have no easy answers for this, except to say don’t put your trust in princes, or presidents, or SCOTUS judges. Don’t sell your vote for a mess of pottage. If you pin your hopes on the political process, you are going to be disappointed—bruisingly and repeatedly. So don’t.
At the same time, this is not a call to blanket cynicism. There is still much to be hopeful and thankful for in this country. There are still gardens to tend, children to raise, and small victories to be won, if you look for them. And there is the assurance that whether or not we are “winning,” we’re standing for something that’s true. As Alexandra DeSanctis writes at National Review, echoing Ryan Anderson, now is the time to remind ourselves that Christian conservatism has never been about pleading for exemptions to exercise religious bigotry in the public square. It’s about a vision for the best good of the nation, the family, and the human individual. We may be on the losing side. But we are still on the right side. To quote Gandalf, that is an encouraging thought.