Religious right threatens Supreme Court on gay marriage

In a rather inappropriate move, America’s top anti-gay religious right leaders, including five officially-designated “hate groups,” have signed an anti-gay-marriage statement that appears to be a threat directed at the justices sitting on the US Supreme Court.


The statement expresses concern over the Supreme Court’s expected upcoming decision on two high-profile gay marriage cases concerned the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Prop 8.  It goes on to say that the Supreme Court had better not legalize gay marriage (no one expects it to), and that if it does the religious right leaders will not accept the court’s rule, and the court will at the same time undermine its credibility and legitimacy.

The signatories including the heads of the Family Research Council*, American Family Association*, Catholic League, Concerned Women for America, Traditional Values Coalition*, Illinois Family Institute*, anti-gay bigot Peter LaBarbera’s Americans for the Truth About Homosexuality*, and oddly, far-right Web site WorldNetDaily.  The statement has an additional, larger, number of b-list anti-gay signatories.  (Those organizations with an asterisk have been officially-designated as “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.)

Anti-gay protester outside the Supreme Court's DOMA and Prop 8 oral arugments. © John Aravosis 2013

Anti-gay protester outside the Supreme Court’s DOMA and Prop 8 oral arugments. © John Aravosis 2013.   See my entire Supreme Court gay marriage photo essay.

What’s really going on here, in my opinion, in addition to religious right leaders admitting publicly that they do not believe in democracy in general, and in America’s democracy and our system of governance as laid out in the Constitution, in particular, is a not-so-subtle last-ditch effort to pressure the Supreme Court to rule against gays in the DOMA and Prop 8 cases.

First, a few quotes from the statement, then some analysis of what the religious right hopes to achieve:

As Christian citizens united together, we will not stand by while the destruction of the institution of marriage unfolds in this nation we love….

Experience and history have shown us that if the government redefines marriage to grant a legal equivalency to same-sex couples, that same government will then enforce such an action with the police power of the State. This will bring about an inevitable collision with religious freedom and conscience rights. We cannot and will not allow this to occur on our watch….

Finally, the Supreme Court has no authority to redefine marriage and thereby weaken both the family and society….

As the Supreme Court acknowledged in the 1992 decision of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, its power rests solely upon the legitimacy of its decisions in the eyes of the people. If the Supreme Court were to issue a decision that redefined marriage or provided a precedent on which to build an argument to redefine marriage, the Supreme Court will thereby undermine its legitimacy. The Court will significantly decrease its credibility and impair the role it has assumed for itself as a moral authority. It will be acting beyond its proper constitutional role and contrary to the Natural Moral Law which transcends religions, culture, and time.

It’s difficult to explain to a non-lawyer, but it’s considered incredibly rude to attempt to “lobby” the Supreme Court.  And to threaten them is even more low-brow.  The appropriate way to “lobby” the Supreme Court is by filing an amicus brief, or at best going on TV or penning an oped and hoping a Supreme Court Justice happens to see it.  But you don’t outright threaten them.  It’s not just poor form and boorish, it’s considered un-Democratic.  Courts of law, the Supreme Court especially, are not supposed to respond to the whims of the people.  They’re supposed to do what’s right under the law.

A straight biracial couple protesting in favor of gay marriage across the street from Supreme Court.

A straight biracial couple protesting in favor of gay marriage across the street from Supreme Court. © John Aravosis 2013 See my entire Supreme Court gay marriage photo essay.

Having said that, clearly the religious right is playing on the court’s well-known concern about getting too far ahead of the popular culture on hotly-contested social issues, as some feel it did with Roe v. Wade in 1973.  Thus, this is an attempt to “play the refs” but claiming – incorrectly – that this is Roe all over again.

Except it’s not.  While the religious right hates gay people, most Americans do not.  Even on “contentious” issues like gay marriage, consistently more than half the population is now in favor, with young people overwhelming in favor – meaning, it’s only a matter of time.

And while the religious right is willing to threaten to disobey the Supreme Court’s ruling on this matter, most Americans actually accept the rule of law, and more importantly, believe in our system of governance, which includes an independent judiciary.  The religious and its Republican party overlords (though lately it seems that it’s the religious right lording over the GOP), don’t like arbiters that they can’t control.  It’s why they’ve tried to either destroy the uncontrollable and/or rebuild it in their own image.

The religious right Phelps clan protesting outside the Supreme Court during the DOMA and Prop 8 oral arguments.  © John Aravosis 2013

The religious right Phelps clan protesting outside the Supreme Court during the DOMA and Prop 8 oral arguments. © John Aravosis 2013 See my entire Supreme Court gay marriage photo essay.

For example, if the media is refusing to report your lies as truth, create your own “media” in Fox News.  And if the courts are refusing to oppress blacks, gays, women and Latinos, either create your own courts, so to speak, by packing them with your own judges while stopping the other party from nominating its own, trying to pressure the justices such as with this religious right gay marriage statement, passing laws that take jurisdiction away from courts on issues that you’re sure to lose, or simply so berating the courts over time that the majority of the country ignores them.

Republicans have tried all three.  This latest attempt is a mix of pushing people to ignore the court, and trying to publicly pressure the court.  But at its core, it’s a combination of playing the refs, and not even accepting the legitimacy of the refs in the first place.  In much the same way that Republicans have questioned the legitimacy of Democratic presidents Clinton (with the never-ending investigations and impeachment) and Obama (with the birthers and now the investigations).

Republicans have found that when they play fair, they lose.  So instead, they play foul.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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