The Supreme Court made today a momentous day in the history of the American LGBT community by striking down all state bans on same-sex marriage. Marriage equality has not just become the law of the land, but enshrined in American jurisprudence.
People everywhere praised the decision. However, the religious right were not at all thrilled by the decision, and made their thoughts known ad nauseam. Which for me, means that they merely commented on how “imperial” the court is by telling states in the Bible Belt and elsewhere that they can’t legislate the definition of marriage to the exclusion of LGBT citizens.
However, the history of this country says otherwise. Many controversial civil rights issues have been settled by the Supreme Court. Some controversial decisions by the Supreme Court even led to military action. Dred Scott v Sandford effectively gutted the Missouri Compromise, and is considered the first shot across the bow that led to the Civil War. And lest we forget, thanks to Sebeillius v Hobby Lobby, it is now the case that corporations have religious freedoms that they never had up to the point of that decision.
Both sides of the political aisle can agree, the Supreme Court doesn’t always get it right. But why such an extreme reaction by Republican and religious leaders? Because they framing this as an attack on Christian values and on their religious liberty.
Bobby Jindal, GOP presidential candidate stated “Marriage has been defined as between one man and one woman by God, no earthly court can change that.” Not surprisingly, Jindal has also called for an end to the court.
Mike Huckabee, another GOP presidential candidate who wears this religious fervor on his sleeve, stated that he will not acquiesce to an “imperial” court any more than the Founding Fathers acquiesced to a British imperial government. Interestingly, he also said the Jesus was the cure for racism and curiously ignored the role religion played in Southern states’ rationalization of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation. The Old Testament even condones slavery, and the New Testament makes parabolic statements about slavery in terms of believers being the slaves and god being the master. Hence, Friedrich Nietzsche’s criticism of biblical morality in terms of master-slave morality.
The religious right sees this as an attack on their religious liberty, which they have essentially redefined so that whatever religion is in the majority has both moral and metaphysical authority on all others. That is not a definition for religious liberty, it is a definition for church liberty. Religious liberty applies to the individual. Christians conflate these two all the time. And it’s not hard to see why.
Religious doctrines need to compete in the same marketplace of ideas as any other doctrine. Christian churches are afraid that this landmark ruling interferes not with an individual’s right to engage or separate from any given religious doctrine, but interferes with the up-to-now largely uncontested authority of the churches to interpret morality for everyone, not just their parishioners. This ruling doesn’t even affect a church’s discretion on whether or not to officiate same-sex weddings. Churches still have the right to refuse this. Religious liberty isn’t under attack here, but churches’ uncontested role as the revealer of morality to all is, as it should be.
Whereas in the past, moral exegesis proliferated by means of the normative control exercised by churches, everything thought after the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution has demanded more than an authoritarian definition of morality. This decision is the result of the failure of Christianity, and by extension, all religions, to give a rational defense of that assumed moral authority. It’s a victory of reason against the irrational moral claims made by all religions, but particularly Christianity.
But the LGBT community should not end their work on the basis of this ruling. America has an election coming up and if anything, this decision just mobilized the reactionary religious base ahead of a presidential election.
The LGBT community needs to hold all candidates accountable for how their religiosity will affect their duties. We need to insist that Jefferson’s conception of an “eternal wall of separation between the church and state” holds. We need to ask all candidates how their religious views will influence how they vote, what legislation they will sponsor, or how they will execute the laws of their constituency. If candidates are going to continue to use their own personal religious views as a means of selling themselves to the general electorate, our community needs to ask the appropriate questions regarding their faith and vote on the basis of the answers they give, not solely on the basis of them being a member of a religion.
As a gay man, I’m ecstatic over the decision today despite my own personal views on marriage. If LGBT people want to get married, they should have the right to do so. And thanks to the Supreme Court, they now do in all 50 states. As an atheist, however, I am acutely aware of how religion tries to exercise their dubious moral authority over every aspect of life, not just through dogma, but through legislation and political activism.
Celebrate! We deserve it! But come Monday, we need to take a long hard look at the road ahead. Going into the 2016 Presidential election, things could get very, very ugly.