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05/01/2015

Why's the far-right putting a long discarded fear card back in the deck?

by Jeremy Hooper

Over the past week, rightie talker Glenn Beck, conservative US Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, and GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush,to name just three, have all floated the idea that pastors and priests and ministerial what-have-yas will all have to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies once civil marriage equality comes to all states. In doing so, they've stoked this new meme of sorts among a far-right that is already hyperventilating over the likely possibility of a Supreme Court ruling that is favorable to fifty-state equality.

For those of us who've been in this debate for some time, this rhetorical nonsense is as surprising as it is annoying. Honestly, it's not something our opposition has tried very often in this debate. Every now and then you've heard a random pastor or a fringe commentator make the claim, but it's been rare to hear anyone with a platform suggest that somehow the freedoms pastors have always enjoyed when it comes to religious ceremonies will somehow change once marriage goes from being in thirty-seven states to fifty. Few have attempted it because it's an obvious load of crap. Every one knows that faith leaders can choose who they will and will not marry in their church ceremonies for just about any reason. More common reasons are situations where one or both of the parties have had a prior divorce, an interfaith coupling, or a couple that fails in church-mandated premarital counseling, but the reasoning really doesn't need to be this specific. When it comes to churches and how they'll conduct their ceremonies, not liking the groom's tux color is basically enough. These faith leaders truly do have this religious freedom.

So why do I think prominent folks like Beck and Bush (and even Scalia) are floating the idea? Easy: I think they're trying to muddy the idea of "religious freedom" even further by taking an actual matter of religious freedom (i.e. choosing how to conduct religious wedding ceremonies) and misapplying it to a civil rights matter (i.e. civil marriage licensing and recognition under state and federal law). As we all know, the far-right has been on the warpath over the past few years trying to pass these odious laws that they slip in under the guise of religious freedom but that are always designed as a license to discriminate against same-sex couples in public accommodations. In order to sell the idea, they have to create a more permeable wall between church and state. In order to chip away at our civil protections, they are trying to create a new stew in which the faith seeps into the civil, and vice versa. They are trying to shape shift houses of worship into public accommodations. They truly are trying to define the faith exemptions that they are trying to sell to the public (i.e. the supposed "right" of vendors to flout nondiscrimination law in order to deny cakes and whatnots to gay couples) as a new civil rights battle. Anytime they can blur the lines, the better (for them).

Where this line about ministers supposedly being forced to marry same-sex couples gets truly offensive is in the fact—THE. FACT.—that (a) no prominent marriage equality activist has every called for this, and (b) this has never once happened in the over ten years that marriage equality has been in the United States in some form. Whether it's in a legislature, at the ballot box, or in the courts, the fight for marriage equality has always been 100% about the civil licensing aspect, and never about the religious ceremony. People who wish to have religious wedding ceremonies, no matter the sexual orientation or gender, have to take it upon themselves to advocate within their own church communities, as some LGBT faith groups have done and will surely continue to do. But that fight is not the LGBT political movement's fight. We have always acted in good faith and goodwill on this point. In fact, as a movement, we've always been very accepting of true religious freedom in all its permeations.

But that's the thing: Our political opposition doesn't tend to care all that much about our good faith or goodwill. I take no pride in saying that, but it's a simple and sad truth that's impossible for me to ignore. The "pro-family" groups and leaders operate, and have always operated, with a generalized idea that anything we say or do in the public square is somehow shady and most always meant to make their lives more difficult. More typically, they suggest we want to criminalize them in some form. We heard it back with hate crimes legislation, when they were insistent that American pastors were going to be hauled into court day and night over sermons that preached against homosexuality (not happening, of course). We hear it with these vendors who want to ignore fairly enacted laws without suffering any penalties for doing so. And now we're hearing it about ministers who are supposedly going to go to jail if they say no to gay couples' religious requests. It's always a game with them—and we are always portrayed as a band of overreaching, faith-hating militants who make up for in aggression what we lack in compassion.

I think once it's explored over time, with some distance, people will understand how insidious it's all been.

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