Political and religious leaders opposed to marriage equality have been ramping up the intensity of their rhetoric in the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court’s imminent decision on the constitutionality of state laws banning same-sex couples from getting legally married. Some have warned of revolutionand civil war if the Supreme Court recognizes that there is no gay exception to the Constitution’s guarantee of fair and equal treatment under the law.
Political and religious leaders opposed to marriage equality have been ramping up the intensity of their rhetoric in the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court’s imminent decision on the constitutionality of state laws banning same-sex couples from getting legally married. Some have warned of revolution and civil war if the Supreme Court recognizes that there is no gay exception to the Constitution’s guarantee of fair and equal treatment under the law.
One recent salvo in this rhetorical campaign was a full page ad in the June 10 Washington Post in the form of an open letter to the Supreme Court. The headline read, “We ask you not to force us to choose between the state and the Laws of God.”
“We are Christians who love America and respect the rule of law,” the ad said, “However, we will not honor any decision by the Supreme Court which will force us to violate a clear biblical understanding of marriage as solely the union of one man and one woman.”
Similar statements can be found in the“Pledge in Solidarity to Defend Marriage”put together by the same people behind thePost ad. And it’s not much different from language in the Manhattan Declaration, a 2009 manifesto written by former National Organization for Marriage chairman Robert George (right) and signed by an array of conservative religious leaders. The Declaration declares that its signers will not “bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family.”
The Post ad suggested that a pro-equality ruling would “unleash religious persecution and discrimination against people of faith,” a statement that ignores the many people of faith who do support full equality for LGBT people. The ad was signed by a bunch of far-right anti-gay activists. Here’s just a sampling:
Let’s put aside all the preening about Religious Right leaders’ willingness to endure prison and martyrdom and consider what they’re really after.
First, we can dispense with the notion that they’re just looking for a “live and let live” world in which “Gays and lesbians have a right to live as they choose; they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us.” In fact, religious conservatives have opposed every advance in cultural acceptance and legal recognition of the equal rights and dignity of LGBT people, including efforts to protect us in laws targeting violent hate crimes, allow us to serve openly in the military, and prevent us from being discriminated against in the workplace.
Robert George, co-author of the Manhattan Declaration and a founder of the National Organization for Marriage, wrote the legal brief filed by Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council in the Lawrence v Texas case, defending state laws that made gay people de facto criminals. NOM’s current chairman John Eastman said just this month that he hopes Uganda quickly puts its notorious anti-gay law back into force, a law that included penalties of life in prison for repeat offenders. Other right-wing religious leaders have traveled the globe, from South America to the Caribbean, from Uganda to Russia, Eastern Europe to Central Asia, to support laws that make gay people into criminals for living as they choose, sometimes even for advocating on behalf of LGBT people.
Back here in the U.S., conservative evangelical leaders and their allies at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops falsely portray LGBT equality and religious liberty as fundamentally incompatible, a zero-sum game. That’s their justification for opposing civil unions as well as marriage equality – even for opposing laws to protect people from being fired just for being gay.
The reality is that religious liberty has continued to flourish, and our religious landscape has grown more diverse, in the decades thatpublic attitudes toward gay people have shifted dramatically toward equality. There has been no effort to require clergy to marry mixed faith couples if their faith prohibits it, and nobody wants to force any church or priest to marry or give their religious blessing to same-sex couples.
Next, let’s consider whether all this line-in-the-sand drawing is really about the supposed need for clergy, organizations, and business owners to enforce their religious beliefs about marriage in the public arena. The Catholic Church does not give its religious blessing to marriages involving people who have previously been married and divorced, unless the previous marriage is religiously “annulled.” But Catholic organizations are not loudly advocating for the right of a Catholic business owner to treat opposite-sex couples differently based on whether or not their marriages have the church’s blessing.
Similarly, many evangelical leaders say marriage is meant to be between one man and one woman “for life.” Yet in spite of the biblical passage in which Jesus says that a man who divorces his wife, for any reason other than sexual immorality, and marries another woman is committing adultery, there is no clamor from Religious Right leaders celebrating discrimination against people in second and third marriages.
It is clear that a different standard is being applied to same-sex couples. But anti-gay prejudice — animus is the legal term – is not an acceptable basis for discrimination, even if it is grounded in religious belief.
Now, there’s a reason Religious Right leaders are trying to make the conversation around marriage be about the grandmotherly florist who was fined when she declined to provide flowers for a gay couple’s wedding, or the conversation about contraception about the Little Sisters of the Poor, who say they don’t want to facilitate abortion. It’s an effort associate the Right’s agenda with a “live and let live” ideal that is appealing to many Americans, regardless of religion or politics.
But here’s the problem: Once you establish the principle – as Supreme Court conservatives did in their Hobby Lobby decision last year – that business owners as well as individuals and organizations should be able to ignore laws that somehow offend their religious beliefs, you have to figure out how far people will be allowed to run with it. It is not yet clear where the justices will draw the line.
That kind of line-drawing is often challenging when dealing with questions about how the government can accommodate religion without government impermissibly favoring it. Religious denominations and houses of worship have the greatest level of protection against government interference; courts and legislatures wrestle with the status of religiously affiliated nonprofits. Until Hobby Lobby, the Court had never ruled that a for-profit corporation could “exercise religion” in a way that is protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but now that door has been opened, it is not clear what kinds of anti-LGBT discrimination it could permit.
Anti-equality religious and political leaders have made it clear that they will continue to oppose marriage equality even in the face of a Supreme Court ruling striking down state marriage bans. Some are calling for massive resistance and urging state leaders to refuse to comply with a pro-equality Supreme Court ruling. Professors Douglas NeJaime and Reva B. Siegel have argued in the Yale Law Journal that in such a situation, in which there is a well-organized movement dedicated to pushing the religious exemption further and further, an accommodation may actually be more likely to extend the culture war conflict than resolve it.
It is worth addressing generally fair-minded people who don’t understand why the gay rights movement won’t just be happy with a marriage win and let a few people with religious objections “opt out.” Some people may think it’s no big deal for gay couples to find another florist or baker. For one thing, that approach discounts the humiliation of being turned away from a business, a violation of human dignity that was a motivating force behind laws banning racial discrimination in public accommodation. And it may not be such a small obstacle in smaller, conservative, religiously homogenous communities, where discrimination may flourish if it is invited by law and encouraged by local religious leaders.
Consider the anti-abortion movement as a cautionary tale.
Shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v Wade, laws were passed to allow doctors who had religious objections to performing abortions to refuse to do so without experiencing negative professional consequences. There has been little opposition to such laws. But over the past few decades, at the urging of anti-abortion activists, the scope of that kind of religious exemption has been expanded wildly to include people ever-further removed from the actual abortion procedure, and expanded to include even marginal participation in the provision of contraception. In emergency situations these accommodation could come at high cost, including the life of a patient.
Exemptions have been extended to or claimed by nurses who don’t want to provide care to women after an abortion, pharmacists who don’t want to dispense a morning-after pill prescribed by a woman’s doctor, even a bus driver who refused to take a woman to a Planned Parenthood facility because he said he suspected she was going for an abortion.
NeJaime and Siegel describe these as “complicity-based conscience claims” – claims that are about refusing to do anything that might make one complicit in any way with another person’s behavior that one deems sinful. They note that the concept of complicity has been extended to allow health care providers not to even inform patients that some potential care or information has been withheld from them based on the religious beliefs of an individual or the policies of an institution.
The resistance to complying with the requirement under the Affordable Care Act that insurance plans cover contraception takes the notion of complicity to almost surreal lengths. Just days after theHobby Lobby decision, the Court’s conservatives sided provisionally with religious conservatives who are arguing that it is a burden on their religious freedom even to inform the government that they are refusing to provide contraceptive coverage, because that would trigger the process by which the coverage would be provided by others. Cases revolving around the simple act of informing the government of an objection are working their way back toward the Supreme Court.
Similarly, some advocates for broad religious exemptions argue that organizations taking taxpayer dollars to provide social services to victims of human trafficking or women who have been victims of rape as a weapon of war should be able to ignore government rules about providing those women with access to the full range of health care they may need. Some groups are saying it would violate their religious freedom even to notify the government when they refuse to provide information or care – such as emergency contraception for teens that have been sexually abused by their traffickers. But keep the public dollars flowing our way!
Given what we know about the intensity of the anti-gay movement’s opposition to marriage equality, it is not hard to imagine how far that movement could run with the principle that religious beliefs about “traditional” marriage are a legitimate basis for discriminating against same-sex couples. They themselves have claimed as a model the (dismayingly successful) 40-year campaign since Roe v Wade to restrict women’s access to reproductive health care. In the words of the Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson, “Everything the pro-life movement did needs to happen again, but on this new frontier of marriage.”
Where will a similarly aggressive campaign against marriage equality lead? There is a new law in North Carolina allowing magistrates to refuse to marry same-sex couples. A new law in Michigan allows adoption agencies functioning with government money to refuse to place children with same-sex couples.
Will corporations be allowed to refuse to hire someone married to a same-sex spouse based on the beliefs of the people who run the company? Will Catholic hospitals, which play an increasingly significant role in our health care system, be able to refuse to recognize same-sex spouses in medical emergencies?
The progress that LGBT people have made toward full equality has been remarkable. In my lifetime, the federal government had a formal policy to fire “sex perverts” and prevent them from getting federal jobs. In my lifetime, state laws criminalizing same-sex relationships were used to fire people from government jobs and even take parents’ children away from them. Even today, in a majority of the states, gay and lesbian people have no protection against being fired for who they are – or who they marry, even if the Supreme Court makes it illegal to keep those weddings from taking place. In all too many places, a company could fire an employee who marries a same-sex partner, the way Catholic schools across the country have been doing.
The good news is that Americans are increasingly opposed to anti-gay discrimination. Most of the laws that were proposed this year tolegalize anti-gay discrimination on the basis of religious belief failed – often thanks to the pro-equality voices of business and religious leaders as well as the hard work of LGBT people and their friends and families and our advocacy organizations.
Most informed observers think the Supreme Court will rule in favor of marriage equality. If that’s what happens, it will be a historic victory and cause for celebration. But as the signers of the recent WashingtonPost ad have made clear, it will not be the end of the struggle.
In response to a bill authorizing public officials to refuse to perform same-sex marriages becoming law in North Carolina this morning, Dr. Terence K. Leathers – a pastor at Mt. Vernon Christian Church in Clayton, North Carolina and a member of People For the American Way's African American Ministers In Action – released the following statement:
“Shame on our legislature for making this harmful and unnecessary bill become law. As a pastor, I believe this is not only a blow for the dignity of all North Carolinians but also a blow for true religious liberty.
“Governor McCrory did the right thing when he vetoed this bill, and the fact that our legislature overrode it shows just how far they will go in misusing the principle of religious liberty in order to discriminate. This is a sad day for our state.”
Last week, Dr. Leathers published an op-ed in The Huffington Post calling on the legislature not to misuse religious freedom to license public officials to discriminate.
In a Republican presidential field crowded with far-right candidates, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is trying to distinguish himself as the far-rightest candidate, especially on issues relating to marriage equality and its supposed threat to the religious freedom of conservative Christians.
Jindal’s latest came at the end of the day on Tuesday. Unwilling to accept the legislature’s failure to pass a so-called “religious liberty” bill (it was voted down 10-2 in a House committee), Jindal issued an executive order designed to protect any person who “acts in accordance with a religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.” The order explicitly defines “person” to include for-profit corporations and well as nonprofit organizations.
Jindal has adopted the rhetorical strategy promoted by the National Organization for Marriage and other opponents of LGTB equality: try to turn conversation about anti-gay discrimination “on its head” by declaring that laws protecting gay people are actually a form of discrimination against Christians. His statement about the executive order said it was designed to “prevent the state from discriminating against persons or entities with deeply held religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman.”
Jindal’s order invokes the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby, making it the latest sign that the decision – which granted corporations a right to claim legal exemptions based on the religious beliefs of company owners -- poses a threat to nondiscrimination measures and potentially a wide range of laws protecting the interests of workers. Jindal declared that his order is “not about discrimination,” even though its clear intent is to give legal cover to companies, government officials, and others who discriminate against same-sex couples.
Louisiana does not currently give legal recognition to same-sex couples, but Jindal is concerned that the state’s ban on marriage equality may soon be struck down by the Supreme Court, a potential ruling which his order seems to be a legally questionable effort to pre-empt. Jindal should be asked to clarify exactly what actions his legislation is designed to “protect”: a courthouse clerk who refuses to process marriage license paperwork? Religious schools getting tax dollars under Jindal’s education policy refusing to accept children of gay parents? Catholic hospitals refusing to recognize the spousal or parental rights of gay couples during medical emergencies?
Jindal’s “religious liberty” bill had been opposed by business and tourism leaders as well as civil rights groups. The New Orleans Times Picayune reports that the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Stephen Perry had called the bill “a radioactive, poisonous message.”
But Jindal’s primary audience is no longer his Louisiana constituents; it's right-wing activists nationwide. Jindal boasted about the executive order by stopping by the radio program hosted by Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, an anti-gay activist who once suggested that LGBT non-discrimination measures would lead to the Holocaust perpetrated against Christians.
Jindal immediately stepped in and ordered that while he’s governor the state government is not going to be a tool of the Cultural Marxists’ Rainbow Jihad against religion — particularly Christianity….
This action by Jindal is an example of what will be required of the next president if he’s going to truly honor his oath of office to defend our Constitution against all enemies — “both foreign and domestic.”
Let’s face it, the vast majority of alleged conservatives won’t stand up to the Democrats. And almost none of them will stand up to the Republicrats. On perhaps the most important issue of them all — the First Amendment that allows us the freedom to peacefully and publicly stand on principle for everything else — Jindal has done both.
But he didn’t just stand up to them rhetorically, he actually did something about it. There are several potentially exciting presidential candidates this cycle. There’s even a couple that like Jindal have shown they will tell the Republicrats bleeding us dry to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine.
As the Supreme Court prepares for arguments about the right to marry, PFAW Foundation Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin says our country may be “on the verge of a historic breakthrough.”
On Thursday, PFAW hosted a telebriefing for members and supporters on this historic moment in anticipation of oral arguments in the Supreme Court marriage cases (Obergefell v. Hodges) next week. PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker moderated a conversation among affiliate PFAW Foundation Senior Fellows Jamie Raskin and Elliot Mincberg as well as People For supporters who called in to join the discussion.
In the telebriefing, Raskin and Mincberg unpacked some of the questions before the court — not only whether states can prohibit same-sex couples from marrying or refuse to recognize marriages from other states — but also the implications of the various types of reasoning the justices may use to reach their decision.
They also reflected on the remarkable social transformation our country has seen on the rights of LGBT people. Raskin remembered that the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick decision, which upheld the criminalization of “sodomy,” came out while he was in law school. With the Court’s steady march away from that kind of legal reasoning, he said, “there’s no going back from here.”
Mincberg pointed out that, unfortunately, the backlash has started before the Supreme Court even decides the cases. With “right to discriminate” legislation pending in more than a dozen states and a handful considering “marriage refusal” bills, it’s clear that the far Right is already forging ahead with a nationwide push to undermine the expanding rights of LGBT Americans.
Call participants shared some great questions and opinions, including a retired pediatric doctor who asked why the principles accepted by the medical community to take care of your patients rather than question or judge them have not been accepted by the political community as well.
Listen to the full telebriefing here:
Note: This article first appeared at Huffington Post.
In April, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on the constitutionality of state laws that ban same-sex couples from getting married. The historic case has attracted a wide array of amicus briefs; People For the American Way Foundation joined religious and civil rights groups on a brief urging the Court to reject discriminatory marriage bans and challenging “religious liberty” arguments opposing marriage equality.
One fascinating brief was filed by the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. The original group by that name was led by Frank Kameny, an astronomer who was fired from his federal job for being gay and led some of the earliest gay-rights protests in the nation’s capital in the 1960s. The name and legacy have been revived by local activists Charles Francis and Pate Felts for the purpose of documenting decades of systematic anti-gay discrimination by the federal government. In partnership with pro bono attorneys from the firm of McDermott Will & Emery, the new Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. is engaged in strategic “archive activism.” They are using the Freedom of Information Act to unearth a “culture of animus” that permeated the U.S. Civil Service Commission – now known as the Office of Personnel Management – and to bring to public light previously closed records about investigations challenging workers’ “loyalty” and “suitability.”
“The investigation and firing of gay and lesbian federal employees was like shooting fish in a barrel for the General Counsels and legal staff of the Civil Service Commission,” says Francis. “The animus, almost sports-like in their writings, is documented in decades of legal advisory files we discovered this year at the National Archives.”
Among the historical tidbits unearthed by the project: Nancy Reagan turning down a plea from a dying Rock Hudson for help getting into another hospital; and anti-gay activist Gary Bauer’s no-holds-barred, but ultimately unsuccessful, effort to keep the White House from including a gay person on the nation’s first AIDS commission.
The Mattachine Society’s project is about preserving the historical record, but it also has an important legal purpose, which is demonstrating that anti-equality laws and regulations have long been grounded in hostility, or animus, that is not a permissible justification for discrimination. Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissent from the Supreme Court decision in Windsor, which overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, demonstrates the importance of this archival work. Roberts suggested there is insufficient evidence – he waved it away as “snippets of legislative history” – to demonstrate that DOMA’s purpose was to “codify malice.” Added Roberts, “I would not tar the political branches with the brush of bigotry.”
There’s no escaping the brush of bigotry, the reeking stench of bigotry, exposed by the Mattachine Society’s brief, which links to more than 35 historical documents that demonstrate the ways that the Civil Service Commission, often in partnership with J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and other law enforcement agencies, investigated people suspected of sexual “perversion” and robbed them of their federal jobs and careers.
From the amicus:
For decades, this animus was one of the basic assumptions of American life. It was so persistent, so prevalent, and so instrumental to the way that we structured our institutions, treated our fellow citizens, and organized our lives that, in retrospect, it is often overlooked….
For decades, both federal and state governments targeted and persecuted homosexuals, individuals suspected of being homosexual, and even those believed to have engaged in homosexual acts, regardless of actual sexual orientation. The stated rationale shifted over time—from concerns about national security to code words, such as “suitability”—but the point was always the same: government officials, federal and state, high and low, felt a complete revulsion toward homosexuals and wanted to purge the country of even the hint of homosexuality.
Animus, therefore, was a culture. And with that culture came a language. For decades, government officials referred to homosexuality in official, often highly confidential or privileged communications, as “unnatural,” “uniquely nasty,” “immoral,” “deviant,” “pervert[ed],” and an “abomination.” Even the FBI had a term for the program that it designed to rid the government of homosexuals—the “Sex Deviate Program.” Once it attached, whether based in fact or mere speculation, the label of homosexuality remained forever fixed. As one senior executive official wrote, “once a homo, always a homo.” And, as one state legislature put it, what homosexuals wanted was “recognition.” And “recognition” was something to fear….
The effort to purge “sex deviates” began well before President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1953 Executive Order 10450, but that action explicitly made “sexual perversion” a disqualification from federal employment. Congress was in on the act as well. The Mattachine amicus quotes from a 1950 document from the US Senate Subcommittee of the Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Department:
There is no place in the United States Government for persons who violate the laws or the accepted standards of morality, or who otherwise bring disrepute to the Federal service by infamous or scandalous personal conduct . . . . It is the opinion of this subcommittee that those who engage in acts of homosexuality and other perverted sex activities are unsuitable for employment in the Federal Government.
The federal government also worked in concert with anti-gay activities being carried out at the state level. One of the documents uncovered by Mattachine’s Freedom of Information Act requests is a 1963 note from Civil Service Commission General Counsel L. V. Meloy to Charley Johns, chairman of the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee on Homosexuality and Citizenship.
The infamous Johns Report wallowed in salacious descriptions of “the special world of homosexuality” and warned of “aggressive homosexuals” seeking recognition and legal equality. The report described teachers engaging in sex in public bathrooms and little league coaches seducing teenagers, asserting, “The plain fact of the matter is that a great many homosexuals have an insatiable appetite for sexual activities and find special gratification in the recruitment to their ranks of youth.” The report included a glossary of “sex offenses” that were illegal under Florida law and eight pages of homosexual slang and “deviate acts.”
Meloy’s letter asking for “several copies” of the report said that the “Federal Government has related problems in this area and … [the] investigation will shed additional light on a most difficult problem in suitability for government employment.” The Florida committee specifically targeted gay teachers but also resulted, according to the Mattachine amicus, in the removal of at least 37 federal employees.
The brief also documents that the Civil Service Commission shifted its strategies in response to court rulings challenging its policies. The brief goes into some depth documenting the case of William Dew, an African American Air Force veteran. Dew was married with a pregnant wife when he was fired from his job as an air traffic controller in 1958 for having admitted years earlier as part of a job application to the CIA that he had experimented with gay sex when he was in college. After a six-year legal battle, culminating in the Supreme Court agreeing to hear Dew’s appeal, the government settled with him. But rather than loosening the CSC’s anti-gay policies, the government strengthened its resolve in the wake of the Dew settlement and, in the words of the Mattachine amicus, “demonstrated its willingness to use all of its resources to crush homosexuals and those who engaged in homosexual acts with its suitability standards.”
Following a 1969 DC Circuit Court ruling that challenged the firing of federal workers for something that had nothing to do with the performance of their jobs, the CSC General Counsel at that time, Anthony Mondello, argued that federal agencies would have a hard time attracting quality workers if applicants knew they might have to work with “people who repeatedly engaged in serious misconduct offensive to community standards.”
The CSC and its successor, the Office of Personnel Management, continued to target gay federal employees throughout the 1960s and 1970s and into the 1980s.
The Mattachine Society brief ends with an appeal to the Court’s history of addressing anti-gay animus:
The Dew case is important for another reason as well—one that goes to the heart of the cases now before this Court. For decades, there was no limit to the animus meted out against LGBT Americans and no end to its reach. It poisoned every institution in the United States and seeped into the lives of all Americans, not merely those of gays and lesbians. So too, the language of animus became commonplace among those in the highest positions in government: “homo,” “sexual deviant,” “pervert,” “abomination,” “uniquely nasty,” and other derogatory terms and phrases were used with bureaucratic ease as a way to define, cabin, and limit the citizenship of LGBT Americans. As the Dew case perfectly illustrates, the animus even extended to those who were not gay.
It was the courts—and in the case of Dew, this Court—that ultimately stepped in to set the course right. This Court knows animus when it sees it, and it has a well-established line of cases overturning laws that by their text, background history, and effect, relegate a class of citizens to second-class status. See, e.g., Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996); Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003); and United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (2013). Indeed, this Court has already recognized the long history of discrimination and animus against homosexuals. See, e.g., Lawrence, 539 U.S. at 571.
The newly revealed documents cited herein merely reinforce what this Court already knows. For decades, there was a culture of animus against LGBT Americans that permeated every aspect of American life and every American institution. In many places, that culture continues to this day. To say that the marriage bans now at issue are not somehow the product of this historical animus is to ignore reality. We may not see the air that feeds the flame. But, for decades, animus against LGBT Americans fed the flames of hatred, revulsion, and disgust from which the current marriage bans arose.
The Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. is optimistic about the impact of its brief. “The government attorneys who administered the federal ban on homosexuals have met their match in our pro bono counsel McDermott, Will & Emery’s powerful amicus brief," says Francis, "The McDermott brief is a lasting account of an unconstitutional ‘culture of animus’ embedded through seven Presidencies.”
On Friday PFAW Foundation joined the Anti-Defamation League and an expansive coalition of religious and civil rights organizations in submitting an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to rule state-level marriage bans unconstitutional in the four marriage cases before them this term. One specific religious conception of marriage, the signers argue, should not define our nation’s laws on it.
The brief outlines instances in our country’s history in which discriminatory laws have been justified on the grounds of “religious and moral disapproval,” from laws supporting slavery to segregation to discrimination against women. But, the signers note, the Supreme Court has rejected these types of arguments over and over – and should again with regard to the marriage bans.
The brief also takes apart the “religious liberty” arguments of those opposing marriage equality, noting that overturning the bans will not threaten freedom of religion since religious groups will still be able to define what marriage means in their tradition:
[C]ontrary to the arguments of some who defend the marriage bans, invalidating the bans will not jeopardize religious liberty. As an initial matter, the cases before this Court concern whether same-sex couples are entitled to the benefits of civil marriage. Religious groups will remain free, as they always have been, to choose how to define religious marriage and which marriages to solemnize…. Religious liberty should serve as a shield, not as a sword to discriminate against members of a disadvantaged minority group.
This amicus brief was one of a stunning array of briefs filed in the Supreme Court last week in favor of marriage equality, including briefs signed by more than 2,000 clergy; 200 police officers, EMTs, and firefighters; 400 companies, including forty of the nation’s largest corporations; more than 200 mayors; and more than 300 conservative leaders.
Last week, People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch reported on a Christian Post column by right-wing commentator Larry Tomczak in which he warned that Hollywood is “promoting homosexuality” by “targeting innocent and impressionable children.” In particular, Tomczak attacked Ellen DeGeneres, whom he wrote “celebrates her lesbianism and ‘marriage’ in between appearances of guests like Taylor Swift to attract young girls.”
The column caught the attention of none other than Ellen herself, who responded to Tomczak on her show this week.
She told Tomczak: “First of all, I’m not ‘married.’ I’m married. That’s all,” adding “I don’t even know what it means to ‘celebrate my lesbianism.’”
She then revealed her true “gay agenda”:
The federal court ruling striking down Mississippi’s ban on same-sex couples getting married is worth reading for many reasons. Paul wrote earlier about U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves’s compelling explanation of the role of the courts in protecting Americans’ constitutional rights. The ruling is also filled with rich historical detail about the extent to which the state of Mississippi and the federal government have discriminated against LGBT citizens over the years, as well as the ways in which groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the notorious Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission used anti-gay rhetoric and innuendo in their attacks on African American civil rights leaders and institutions.
This history is an important rebuttal to bogus claims by anti-gay activists that gay people do not need to have their rights protected in law because they have never suffered from discrimination.
Quotes from the opinion, with citations removed for readability:
Any claim that Mississippians quietly accommodated gay and lesbian citizens could no longer be made in the 1960s, when prejudice against homosexuals (and other groups) became more visible during the civil rights movement. Segregationists called their opponents “racial perverts,” while U.S. Marshals – summoned to enforce civil rights – were labeled “sadists and perverts.” Klan propaganda tied together “Communists, homosexuals, and Jews, fornicators and liberals and angry blacks – infidels all.”
One Klan photo showed a black man touching the crotch of the white man sitting next to him, attempting to make the link between racial equality and homosexuality explicit.
Civil rights leaders had predicted the attack. In selecting the Freedom Riders, James Farmer had conducted interviews to weed out “Communists, homosexuals, [and] drug addicts.” “We had to screen them very carefully because we knew that if they found anything to throw at us, they would throw it,” he explained.
This reflected society’s notion that homosexuals were “undesirables.” It also placed civil rights leaders in the position of seeking rights for one disenfranchised group while simultaneously seeking to avoid association with another disenfranchised group. Mississippians opposed to integration harassed several civil rights leaders for their homosexuality. Bill Higgs was a prominent gay Mississippi civil rights lawyer. He was targeted for his activism, convicted in absentia of delinquency of a minor, and threatened with “unlimited jailings” should he ever return to Mississippi.
He never did.
Reeves also discusses the case of Bayard Rustin, the openly gay African American civil rights activist who organized the 1963 March on Washington at which Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
The most interesting part of Rustin’s story, though – and the reason why he merits more discussion here – is that he was subjected to anti-gay discrimination by both white and black people, majority and minority alike. Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, a black Democrat, threatened to feed the media a false story that Rustin was having an affair with Martin Luther King, Jr., unless Dr. King canceled a protest at the Democratic National Convention.
Other persons within the civil rights movement were similarly “put off by Rustin’s homosexuality.” Roy Wilkins, an NAACP executive, “was particularly nasty to Bayard Rustin – very hostile,” in part because he “was very nervous about Bayard’s homosexuality.” Dr. King eventually had Rustin resign “because of persistent criticism of Rustin’s homosexuality and Communist ties and because of Congressman Adam Clayton Powell’s threat.”
Rustin reemerged years later as one of the principal organizers of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. A. Philip Randolph and Dr. King wanted Rustin as the march’s chief organizer, but Wilkins pushed back “because [Rustin] was gay . . . something which in particular would offend J. Edgar Hoover.” The group ultimately “decided Randolph would be in charge of the march, that Rustin would be the principal organizer, but that he would stay somewhat in the background.”
The concern about offending Hoover was prescient, as the FBI Director and other top officials soon moved to use Rustin’s homosexuality against him. In August 1963, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and President John F. Kennedy urgently reviewed the transcript of a FBI wiretap in which Dr. King acknowledged Rustin’s homosexuality. A day later, Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina “rose in the Senate to denounce Rustin for sexual perversion, vagrancy, and lewdness.” FBI “headquarters badgered the field offices for new details” of Rustin’s sex life for months.
As Reeves makes clear, this kind of persecution was not only reserved for civil rights activists.
Rustin’s story speaks to the long tradition of Americans from all walks of life uniting to discriminate against homosexuals. It did not matter if one was liberal or conservative, segregationist or civil rights leader, Democrat or Republican; homosexuals were “the other.” Being homosexual invited scrutiny and professional consequences.
These consequences befell quite a few Mississippians. Ted Russell, the conductor of the Jackson Symphony Orchestra, lost his job and his Belhaven College faculty position after he was caught in a gay sex sting by the Jackson Police Department. In the early 1980s, Congressman Jon Hinson drew scrutiny for frequenting an X-rated gay movie theater in Washington, D.C., and although he won reelection, he resigned when he returned to Washington and was caught performing gay sex acts in a Capitol Hill bathroom. As early as 1950, the State’s flagship institution of higher learning, the University of Mississippi, “forced three homosexual students and one faculty member to leave the university” because it “did not tolerate homosexuality.” Lesbian instructors at Mississippi University for Women were pushed out of their jobs, while students at other Mississippi public universities were expelled for their homosexuality. A 1979 article on gay Jacksonians said “most” remained closeted because “they fear losing their jobs, friends and families.”
Reeves discusses the anti-gay actions of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, which was created in 1956 to maintain racial segregation by any means necessary.
Sovereignty Commission “[i]nvestigators and local officials also targeted local blacks and outsiders involved in civil rights activities as being sexually deviant.” They singled out Rust College, a private historically black institution, on reports that instructors there were “homosexuals and racial agitators.”
Those with power took smaller, yet meaningful, actions to discourage gay organizing and association in Mississippi. The State refused to let gay rights organizations incorporate as nonprofits. The newspaper at Mississippi State University – student-led, with an elected editor – refused to print a gay organization’s advertisement notifying gay and lesbian students of an off-campus “Gay Center” offering “counseling, legal aid and a library of homosexual literature. An advisor to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights concluded that the Jackson Police Department took “a series . . . of maneuvers to harass members of Jackson’s gay community.” “As of 1985 not a single university campus in Mississippi recognized a lesbian and gay student group.”
Reeves’s ruling also makes clear that official discrimination is not only in the state’s past.
In 1990, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed a trial judge who declared that a mother, who was a lesbian, could not visit her children in the presence of her female partner. In Weigand v. Houghton, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed a trial judge who refused residential custody to a father in large part because he was in a long-term relationship with another man. A dissent complained that the father’s sexuality had impaired the court’s judgment, since the child would now have to live with “the unemployed stepfather [who] is a convicted felon, drinker, drug-taker, adulterer, wife-beater, and child-threatener, and . . . the mother [who] has been transitory, works two jobs, and has limited time with the child.”
In 2002, one of Mississippi’s justice court judges, frustrated with advances in gay rights in California, Vermont, and Hawaii, “opined that homosexuals belong in mental institutions.” Although he was reprimanded and fined by the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance, the Mississippi Supreme Court vacated the sanctions. It was more important for gay citizens to know that their judge was biased and seek his recusal than to “forc[e] judges to conceal their prejudice against gays and lesbians,” it wrote. The “Commission urges us to ‘calm the waters’ when, as the guardians of this state’s judicial system, we should be helping our citizens to spot the crocodiles.”
Reeves details a number of recent complaints and lawsuits challenging discriminatory treatment by state and local governments as well as legal inequities such as the fact that Mississippi law permits a single person to adopt a child but not gay or lesbian couples.
This kind of restriction was once supported by pseudoscience. We now recognize that it actually “harms the children, by telling them they don’t have two parents, like other children, and harms the parent who is not the adoptive parent by depriving him or her of the legal status of a parent.”
Reeves concludes the historical section of the ruling this way:
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” That is as true here as anywhere else. Seven centuries of strong objections to homosexual conduct have resulted in a constellation of State laws that treat gay and lesbian Mississippians as lesser, “other” people. Thus, it is easy to conclude that they have suffered through a long and unfortunate history of discrimination.
People For the American Way joined local activists at a park in downtown Louisville on Friday to protest Kentucky's ban on marriage equality for same-sex couples.
The "Love Will Win" rally came in response to last week's federal appeals court decision that upheld laws against same-sex marriage in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. Currently the Commonwealth doesn't even have to recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in other states.
Protesters are hopeful this setback will pave the way for a Supreme Court reversal, bringing marriage equality to the South and the rest of the nation.
Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, said that he’s disappointed by the decision but pleased by the prospects of getting a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
"I think we all knew the sixth circuit was going to rule against LGBT freedom to marry,” Hartman said. “The sixth circuit is the most overturned circuit at the Supreme Court in the entire nation."
Thus far, 32 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage.