Now that the Supreme Court has made marriage equality the law of the land, what’s next? Paul Waldman at the Washington Post says it’s going to be the “religious liberty” issue.
While there’s a political calculation at work and a lot of the rhetoric travels into the territory of the absurd, there are also some legitimate legal questions that have to be worked out.
First, let’s place this in context. For some time now, conservative Christians have told themselves a story of their own oppression, one that testifies to their courage in holding to their faith when hostile forces would rip it from them and send them cowering to the shadows. This is in large part a reaction to the diversification of our society, in which the proportion of Americans who are Christian is indeed declining. As a result of that change, many of the features of civil and commercial life have changed as well, so that instead of being the only religion expressed, Christianity is one among many. Some Christians would obviously prefer it if their particular faith had a monopoly on government expressions and things like signs in department stores, and are genuinely horrified when they see a sign reading “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
Since those Christians are mostly Republicans, and evangelicals are particularly numerous in the state of Iowa, GOP presidential candidates almost inevitably echo those sentiments back to the voters, repeating the narrative of oppression. “I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian,” said Rick Perry in a famous ad from his presidential run four years ago. So brave, to admit that! “But you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.”
For the record, people still celebrate Christmas pretty openly last time I checked, and every kid is free to pray in school; what’s forbidden (in most but not all cases) is prayers sponsored and organized by the public school itself.
In any case, the gay marriage decision is easy to turn into a story of Christians oppressed, like the baker who doesn’t want to bake a cake for a gay couple. Conservatives have successfully expanded the realm of the religious beyond things like rituals, worship, and sacraments into other realms like commerce, and if they’re feeling despondent over the Court decision, they should remember that this Supreme Court has agreed with them, holding in the Hobby Lobby case that a corporation can have its own religious beliefs and thus excuse itself from laws it doesn’t find congenial.
The course from there is pretty obvious: the Religious Right and their political allies running for president will use their vast lung power and internet reach to grift money from the foolish and the weak. Every victory scored by the Radical Homosexuals (which sounds like an ’80’s heavy metal band) will generate e-mail blasts with pleas for money.
The conventional wisdom is that the ruling on marriage equality was greeted privately by the GOP and the Religious Right with, if not joy, at least relief. For the Republicans, it removes it from the immediacy of the campaign and into the abstract (see Huckabee, Mike, and his plans to fight “judicial tyranny” with tyranny). For the Religious Right, now they have a whole new flock of pigeons to pluck in the name of fighting non-existent persecution.