Do you hear that creaking sound? It sounds as if the political pendulum that normally swings between conservative and progressive forces is coming unstuck from its longtime lodging in right-wing conservatism. One year after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality nationwide, the sky hasn’t fallen, a majority of Americans support marriage equality, and Roberta Kaplan, the lesbian attorney who helped win marriage rights at the Supreme Court, just won her third victory for LGBT rights in Mississippi. Stop and take that in for a minute: Mississippi!
This victory is key. Late Thursday, just before a horrendous anti-LGBT bill was to go into effect, District Court Judge Carlton Reeves struck down HB 1523, saying it granted “special rights” to some based on their religious beliefs. The law would have allowed business owners to deny service to anyone they believed violated their religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman, or that sex is reserved for heterosexual married couples only or that a person must be forever identified by the gender on their birth certificate. The specificity of the religious exemptions is part of a new religious right strategy to make it harder to fight the more than 200 anti-LGBT bills that have swept state legislatures since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of full marriage equality on June 26, 2015.
“Under the guise of providing additional protection for religious exercise, it creates a vehicle for state-sanctioned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” Reeves wrote of HB 1523. “It is not rationally related to a legitimate end.”
In an ironic twist for those who remember the once-effective religious right talking point that gays wanted “special rights, not equal rights,” the federal judge called the professional LGBT-haters out on their tactics. “HB 1523 grants special rights to citizens who hold one of three ‘sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions’ reflecting disapproval of lesbian, gay, transgender, and unmarried persons,” Reeves wrote. “That violates both the guarantee of religious neutrality and the promise of equal protection of the laws.”
But the judge went further, and, as Buzzfeed’s Chris Geidner notes, Reeves did not mince words: “The title, text, and history of HB 1523 indicate that the bill was the State’s attempt to put LGBT citizens back in their place after Obergefell [v. Hodges]. The majority of Mississippians were granted special rights to not serve LGBT citizens, and were immunized from the consequences of their actions. LGBT Mississippians, in turn, were ‘put in a solitary class with respect to transactions and relations in both the private and governmental spheres’ to symbolize their second-class status…. The deprivation of equal protection of the laws is HB 1523’s very essence.”
Certainly high fives are in order. And surely this federal ruling will be used as a flare to awaken other thoughtful judges, legislators and American citizens out of the long right-wing miasma that has lulled the country to sleep over what really constitutes constitutional rights.
Indeed, profound changes are afoot. Not since the Vietnam War has the nation been so politically divided—and interestingly, presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee Donald Trump is using the Nixonian “Silent Majority” theme of that time to describe his supporters in his campaign against presumptive Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton. But with his emphasis on exploding the notion of “political correctness”—which to most people is a catchall phrase for respectful civility towards those who are different from them—Trump has set off land mines that are imploding the GOP. Longtime Republican strategist Mary Matalin left the GOP for the Libertarian Party, for instance, telling Bloomberg News that the Republicans are becoming the Whig Party, which committed political suicide in the mid-19th century.
There are other signs of political turmoil and transformation, of the pendulum swinging towards a new reality that favors equality and love over hate. The reaction to the targeted murder of 49 mostly gay Latinos and wounding of 53 others at a gay nightclub in Orlando on June 12, for instance, was lamented around the world as the worst shooting massacre in U.S. history. And, just as has happened after each mass gun shooting in America, there are cries for more gun control so mentally unstable or hateful or, as in this incident, radicalized terrorists can’t so easily get a gun.
But something is different this time. Yes, as expected, the National Rifle Association shut down Congressional attempts at gun safety legislation. But for the first time in memory, it seemed like the NRA was staggered by an outpouring of anti-NRA recrimination. LGBT organizations such as Equality California and the Human Rights Campaign launched campaigns making gun safety a top political priority, with EQCA putting out a “Hall of Shame” list naming senators who voted against Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s bill closing the “terror gap” that enables suspected terrorists on the “no fly” list from buying weapons. And in the House, Democrats, led by civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis with a strong presence from the California delegation, staged an historic sit-in to protest legislative inaction against gun violence.
“[T]here really does seem to be just an enormous groundswell that we can feel reverberating through the Congress that the status quo is just not acceptable anymore,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, who participated in the sit-in, in a June 16 phone interview. “I sincerely hope that this is a time now where we can actually get something done to curb this epidemic of gun violence.”
“Orlando was a powerful call to action for our community,” said Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California. “Gun violence is an LGBT issue because it disproportionately affects LGBT people. Transgender women face an epidemic of murder and violent crime and anti-LGBT hate crimes are spiking across the country. Our Safe and Equal campaign makes ending gun violence one of Equality California’s top priorities.”
The NRA is certainly feeling the pressure in California after a package of gun safety bills was sent to Gov. Jerry Brown. Before leaving for vacation Friday, Brown signed six measures including bills “banning the sale of semiautomatic rifles with magazines that can quickly be detached by pressing a button, as well as banning possession of high-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds,” the Sacramento Bee reported. Brown said in a signing statement that the measures would “enhance public safety by tightening our existing laws in a responsible and focused manner, while protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners.”
Another blow unsticking the political pendulum was delivered by the Supreme Court last Monday, June 27, when the court ruled 5-3 to strike down a Texas abortion access law, the most significant ruling on abortion and reproductive rights in two decades. The decision freaked out anti-abortion advocates for whom the so-called “pro-life” movement has been a font of funds and frenzy.
“The decision erodes states’ lawmaking authority to safeguard the health and safety of women and subjects more innocent life to being lost,” Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. “Texas’ goal is to protect innocent life, while ensuring the highest health and safety standards for women.”
Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Breyer said the substantial obstacle imposed by the Texas access law for women seeking abortions constituted an “undue burden” on their “constitutional right to do so.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg concurred, writing: “When a State severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners, faute de mieux, at great risk to their health and safety.”
The bottom line: the justices didn’t buy the religious right’s conservative spin. And maybe, just maybe, the American people are starting to recognize the hypocrisy of political-religious spin, as well.
For Californians on the frontlines of the culture wars, the painful, divisive battle over Prop 8 is seared into the LGBT collective consciousness. The religious right wing heirs of Anita Bryant thundered throughout the state about how a vengeful God would smite anyone aligned with the gay evil-doers who threatened children, the family, the state—indeed, America herself—by daring to challenge the sanctity of traditional marriage between one man and one woman. All that talk about “equality” was really just a satanic sham, a ploy to get gay “special rights.”
“This vote on whether we stop the gay-marriage juggernaut in California is Armageddon,” convicted Watergate felon Charles W. Colson, a prominently reformed evangelical, said on a “Yes on 8” videotape broadcast to 2,000 pastors in 170 churches. “We lose this, we are going to lose in a lot of other ways, including freedom of religion.”
“[W]e will not survive if we lose the institution of marriage,” Tony Perkins, president of the hate group Family Research Council told the New York Times in Oct. 2008.
Such animus towards gays was a major argument during the successful federal Prop 8 trial —and of course, Armageddon has yet to occur a year after marriage equality was ruled a constitutional right by the Supreme Court.
But a number of the arguments created and made up out of thin air for the Yes on Prop 8 campaign are still being used by religious right conservatives in their ongoing desperate attempts to restore 1950s white, straight male hegemony. They argue that if “traditional marriage” is not restored, if their version of religious liberty is not upheld, then all hell will break loose—pastors who preach against homosexuality will be jailed; parents will have no right to prevent their children from learning about sex and marriage equality in school; churches that do not perform gay marriage will be sued and lose their tax –exempt status.
“When you have laws that make homosexual marriage a protected class, then the government has a compelling interest to normalize that and must declare anything in opposition to that hate speech,” Rev. Jim Garlow, Prop 8 leader and senior pastor of Skyline Church in San Diego, said in 2008.
None of the Religious Right predictions about marriage equality have come true, but that hasn’t stopped the religious or ostensibly religiously-inspired flim-flam artists from lying to achieve power and suck in money. Mormons actually have a term for this deliberate obfuscation of the truth: “lying for the Lord.”
But such easy arrogance isn’t working as well as it used to. For instance, powerful anti-LGBT evangelical leader James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, recently had to walk back his positive statements about the religious conversion of Donald Trump.
“He did accept a relationship with Christ. I know the person who led him to Christ,” Dobson said to Christian leaders at an evangelical summit organized by Trump in Manhattan. But then Dobson called Trump a “a baby Christian who doesn’t have a clue about how believers think, talk and act.” Days later, he demurred.
“Only the Lord knows the condition of a person’s heart. I can only tell you what I’ve heard,” Dobson said in a statement. “First, Trump appears to be tender to things of the Spirit. I also hear that Paula White has known Trump for years and that she personally led him to Christ.”
“Do I know that for sure? No,” Dobson added, Talking Points Memo reported. “Do I know the details of that alleged conversion? I can’t say that I do.”
Joining in that Trump summit was Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. who is apparently so taken with Trump that he didn’t at all seem uncomfortable posing with his wife Becki against Trump’s wall of awards, including a framed photo of Trump on the cover of Playboy magazine—not exactly evangelical Christian fare. And the photo-op hype did not escape notice, especially on Twitter.
”@JerryJrFalwell @realDonaldTrump @beckifalwell Just curious how the Playboy cover squares with your morality,” @TamiStrege asked.
“@JerryJrFalwell that’s a pic of your candidate on the cover of Playboy as you smile right? You are selling the Gospel for power. #Shame,” offered Ryan Abernathy @absonjourney.
The Trump-evangelical meeting is being called out as phony and hypocritical by fellow evangelicals. In a June 21 op-ed in the Christian Post, Michael Farris said the meeting “marks the end of the Christian Right.”
Farris, who was told he was not invited because of his criticism of Trump, is no slouch in the evangelical political movement, having attended the first meeting of the Moral Majority in 1980, becoming that group’s Washington state director and a noted Christian Right leader.
“The premise of the meeting in 1980 was that only candidates that reflected a biblical worldview and good character would gain our support,” Farris wrote. “Today, a candidate whose worldview is greed and whose god is his appetites (Philippians 3) is being tacitly endorsed by this throng.
Sparse turnout at NOM’s “March for Marriage”
They are saying we are Republicans no matter what the candidate believes and no matter how vile and unrepentant his character. They are not a phalanx of God’s prophets confronting a wicked leader, this is a parade of elephants.”
The times have changed things. “In 1980 I believed that Christians could dramatically influence politics. Today, we see politics fully influencing a thousand Christian leaders,” Farris wrote. “This is a day of mourning.”
None more so, perhaps, than for the Catholic-centered anti-LGBT National Organization for Marriage that held its annual March Against Marriage last weekend. NOM deemed it a major success—though photos and a report from Zack Ford and his interns at ThinkProgress clearly show the event was a major flop.
“Saturday’s rally had fewer than 250 participants. And that’s not an estimate. There were few enough attendees that ThinkProgress hand-counted them,” Ford reported.
“Panicked” — NOM’s Brian Brown
Retired political consultant Fred Karger, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination as an openly gay man, took on NOM, the Mormon Church and their crusade to pass Prop 8 under the banner Californians Against Hate in 2008. Karger, still a NOM/Mormon watcher, notes that NOM—which continues to intentionally divide the LGBT and African American communities— has been reduced to a skeleton staff unsuccessfully trying to pull off their “pathetic Marriage March.” NOM also appears to be “in big financial trouble as Brian Brown’s email of this week called “Panicked” showed. He appears desperate to try and raise money to cover his $500,000 annual salary,” Karger said. “It looks like all NOM’s sugar daddies, including Sean Fieler, have abandoned the sinking ship.”
Both Karger and Ford noted a NOM pivot from marriage to advocating for the anti-transgender bathroom bills.
“The Mormon Church established NOM to qualify and pass Prop 8 eight years ago and to serve as its front group to pass other marriage bans around the country,” Karger said. “Now that gay marriage is the law of the land, NOM’s political hack Frank Schubert and NOM head Brian Brown have zeroed in on a new target, the most vulnerable, the transgender community.”
Some people just don’t know when to give up: Frank Schubert
Schubert, Ford reported, “dedicated most of his remarks to opposing transgender equality, an issue that has no discernible connection to marriage whatsoever but has become one of NOM’s priorities.”
Schubert, the originator of the “fear of consequences” idea that succeeded with Prop 8 and runs through all anti-LGBT bills, was the advisor for two failed attempts at passing anti-trans bathroom initiatives in California in 2015 and in 2014.
Even though he has a married lesbian sister, Schubert appears to have dedicated his life to hatefully wrecking the lives of LGBT people in the name of his Catholic religion.
At the march, NOM leaders also talked about the passage of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) last year after the Obergefell marriage ruling. As ThinkProgress reported: “According to the bill, FADA seeks to prohibit the federal government from taking a ‘discriminatory action’ against an organization or person because of their beliefs about marriage. But in reality, FADA amounts to ‘state sanctioned discrimination’ against the LGBT community. It would only serve the interests of those who do not wish to comply with recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples,” under the guise of protecting “religious liberty.”
No doubt FADA will be a big push when Congress returns from summer recess. But how much traction it will get after the Mississippi ruling, the NBA and other businesses still boycotting North Carolina over its hateful anti-LGBT law, the Pentagon lifting its ban on transgender servicemembers serving openly, and the Williams Institute issuing a new report saying there are approximately 1.4 million transgender people in America—one wonders if a FADA bill will carry much weight in an election year or be seen as the last gasp of a dying cultural war phenomenon.
“LGBT people continue to be targeted by hateful laws in legislatures and at the ballot box across the country,” says EQCA’s Zbur. “But California has, with a minimum of noise or drama, moved in the opposite direction — towards greater protection and inclusion of the LGBT community. NOM was born in California’s battle over Proposition 8, but is no longer welcome here. The anemic turnout at this year’s marriage march shows the organization and its hateful ideas are losing traction outside of California, as well.”
And the kicker? A bill by openly gay Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley), co-sponsored by Equality California and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, that would send a serious message to legislators with hate still in their hearts. AB 1887 would require all California state agencies, departments, boards, authorities and commissions to review all requests for state funded or sponsored travel to states that have enacted laws permitting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, including under overly broad religious exemptions.
“The governors of North Carolina and Mississippi at the urging of bigoted groups like the National Organization for Marriage, have attacked the same fundamental, civil rights granted to every individual in this country – the right to express one’s self freely, to LIVE and LOVE freely,” Low said in an email. “California supports inclusiveness and has always been a leader in preventing discrimination. We need to use our powerful voice to say that we do not tolerate discrimination in any shape or form.”
If AB 1887 passes and is signed into law by Gov. Brown this year, expect that political pendulum to come a bit more unstuck and perhaps even start swinging towards equality before the November elections.