The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is scheduled to hear arguments on whether there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in April. A ruling in the affirmative would strike down the remaining same-sex marriage bans at the state level and allow LGBT people to get married in in all fifty states, even in the Deep South. Given the divided nature of the court, the outcome will be anyone’s guess, but conservatives are pre-emptively preparing for the possibility of state-sanctioned gay marriage. Culture warriors like Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal are already talking about resisting any SCOTUS ruling that would legalize same-sex marriage, and it’s safe to assume that their supporters among Tea Partiers, white evangelicals, and white conservotrad Catholics are doing the same. While I expected apocalyptic rhetoric about the advent of same-sex marriage and the intent to keep on fighting even if SCOTUS rules in favor of universal gay marriage, my assumption was that conservatives would realize that continued resistance to same-sex marriage is politically unfeasible. That was until I read about this story:
In case you don’t want to read the link, the gist is that the a new bill is being proposed by the Oklahoma GOP that would end civil marriage in that state and deputize religious figures — priests, ministers, rabbis, etc. — as the only individuals who could issue marriage licenses. Putting the definition and execution of marriage in the hands of the clergy (and its safe to assume that most Oklahoma clergy are conservative) puts LGBT people, atheists, and other people who might not be able or willing to find a religious imprimatur for their union at the mercy of the conservative Christian super-majority. Todd Russ, the Oklahoma representative who is sponsoring the bill, is quite open about his desire to restrict the civil rights of atheists of any sexual orientation to marry, saying, “[Atheists] don’t have a spiritual basis for a marriage and don’t want to have a clergy member or a priest or someone involved in the spiritual aspect, then they can file an affidavit of common-law marriage.” While the real target of this bill is the LGBT community, I think the anti-atheist sentiment meant as a violent show of Christian privaledge, a way of saying, “Oklahoma is a CHRISTIAN state and if you don’t like it, sucks to be you.”
I have a hard time believing that such an insane bill could ever become law, not so much for the anti-LGBT aspect (which is depressingly common), but because I don’t think that a state can just decide to end civil marriage without leading to some very significant problems at the federal and grassroots level. For example, suppose there is a heterosexual Hindu couple planning to get married in an Oklahoma town with no Hindu temple or even a significant Hindu population. This couple can’t get married, not because they are LGBT or non-religious, but because they are a religious minority. What about Quakers and other religious people who don’t believe in an official clergy? Will civil marriages performed in other states be recognized in Oklahoma? Will atheist marriages be retroactively invalidated? Will Internet clergy licenses be respected? While there must be some progressive clergy in Oklahoma willing to issue marriage licenses to LGBT people and for willing atheists, a couple shouldn’t need a twenty-first century equivalent of “The Green Book” to find an officiant for their wedding (for more on “The Greek Book,” see here http://www.autolife.umd.umich.edu/Race/R_Casestudy/Negro_motorist_green_bk.htm )
As much as I’m tempted to view this bill as one of those crazy pieces of legislation that is only brought up to bolster Mr. Russ’ Tea Party credientials among his conservative constituents, I’m also afraid that it could be only the first of many such bills that could be passed in defiance of universal gay marriage. In the wake of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, the South engaged in what Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia called “Massive Resistance” to integration and black civil rights. In the context of school desegregation, “Massive Resistance” involved closing public school systems rather than integrate them, the establishment of tax-payer funded segregation academies for white students, and school board mix-ups. One could argue that the “cityhood movement” that is so prevelant in Atlanta and Fulton county is “Massive Resistance 2.0” but that’s a story for another post.
What’s really interesting is that conservative politicians like Huckabee are actually using the phrase “Massive Resistance” with regard to opposing gay marriage, which means they’re either purposely ignorant about the phrase’s origins or they know and are using it as a racist AND homophobic dogwhistle:
If nothing else, the repackaged and completely unironic use of “Massive Resistance” should indicate to black religionists that movement conservatism’s crusade against gay marriage is not something they should get involved with. Indeed, it seems to me that while many racial and religious minority groups in the United States are religious or culturally conservative in certain ways, they are only interested in policing the boundaries of their respective communities, not in “saving America,” as is the case with white evangelicals and Catholics. This is probably due to the fact that racial and religious minorities are precisely what white evangelicals and Catholics want to “save America” from and the former understand this quite clearly.
I’ve often heard conservatives and libertarians say that the state should get out of the marriage business, but putting marriage in the hands of religious groups with no option for civil marriage will certainly be a disaster, especially for those groups that don’t fit into what conservative Christians consider “normal.” One lingering question I have about this bill is whether it would legitimize polygamy in those faiths where having more than one wife is considered traditional, like Islam or Mormonism. Oklahoma Republicans couldn’t claim that polygamy isn’t in the Bible and it’s “natural” according to Catholic natural law theory, so I don’t see how they could oppose a religious polygamous marriage if the participants were all of age and could find a clergyman willing to perform such a ceremony.