The religious right will never, ever change its mind on the question of marriage equality. Culture warriors will simply not evolve, for they reject the very possibility of evolution. The Family Research Council will never admit their dire predictions of man-on-dog marriage and group weddings coming to America in the wake of the Obergefell decision were wrong. If anything, we will only hear more, and louder, denunciations of ‘sodomite marriage’ from here on out while their Fourth Generation Warfare campaign to overturn the Age of Reason reaches its climax.
You might think such a strategy is politically deluded, and indeed over the next few years of political history that will probably seem true. But this view is shortsighted, for culture wars are a generational business. When future Americans struggle against the effects of climate change without the benefit of climate science thanks to the right’s ongoing, successful, multi-decade war against science-based education and science funding, the apostles of gay-hating Jesus will be standing by to declare that rising seas and droughts and famines are God’s punishment for allowing sodomites to marry. And before you say that the rising generation will never allow this plan to work, remember that children born today will likely be only as smart as their wristwatch cell phones in 2036, so millions of mentally-malnourished young people might actually buy their nonsense. Maybe America will disintegrate in the process, but then the evangelical extremists can always blame that on godlessness, too. See how easy this is?
In fact, the four dissenting justices explained the next phase of resistance all too plainly in their separate opinions, whose uniting feature is the urge to pour fuel on the flames of sedition. It would be better in their eyes for the federal justice system to burn right to the ground rather than watch the judiciary declare a gay person’s depth of feeling about their most intimate relationship to be equal to their own emotions. Evangelical political groups had been sounding off in apocalyptic terms long before the Obergefell decision, and it’s not hard to see why: if justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts can’t offer a compelling state interest to let government decide who should marry whom, then the soft bigotry of ‘tradition’ is the only argument culture warriors have left to explain themselves. Bereft of all rational justifications, why not just set the courtroom on fire?
The right already has models for successful resistance in this mold. They can take inspiration from the decades when states manufactured Jim Crow laws to disenfranchise African American voters faster than the Supreme Court could strike them down. The next wave of anti-gay activity is coming from the same people who run the forced-birth movement, which has succeeded in making abortions much harder and more expensive to get — without actually decreasing the number being performed — by throttling clinics with exactly the sort of intrusive and unnecessary ‘big government’ regulations that conservatives ordinarily oppose. Remember that model while you listen to state Attorneys General offering to defend county clerks who refuse to issue marriage licenses to couples who offend their personal religious beliefs, or watch state legislators enshrine such protections into law.
This strategy — fighting rear-guard actions at every point, hopefully killing equality with a thousand cuts — is exactly what Mike Huckabee has in mind when he tries to invoke Martin Luther King in calling for “resistance” to “discrimination against people of faith.” If the culture warriors can only monopolize these offices in a state like Texas, then it will be perfectly legal for gay and lesbian couples to marry there, it just won’t actually be possible. And then conservatives can hold up that state as the shining example for all others. Failing this approach, some localities are electing to just stop issuing marriage licenses. This is the literal and self-fulfillment of evangelical predictions that letting same-sex couples marry would somehow hurt the marriages of straight couples: it’s come true, but only because the courthouse door has been locked, and not because gay people are blocking it.
Of course, it’s a logical fallacy to claim on the one hand that gay people are forcing poor innocent county clerks to do their jobs while simultaneously concern-trolling that LGBT activists will now sue churches all over the nation to force them into performing gay weddings. But for people who already don’t believe that church and state are, or ought to be, separate, the dissonance is easily resolved in mass persecution fantasies.
We discount the power of these illusions at our peril. When Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore whines that Christians now face persecution, he’s actually complaining that he doesn’t get to persecute LGBTQs anymore. Moore has compared the Obergefell decision to the Supreme Court’s 19th Century upholding of segregation not because it makes rational sense, but because he has personally worked tirelessly to make life as hellish as possible for gay people. Indeed, that kind of statement is particularly rich coming from Moore, who has longstanding ties to racial extremists. John Eidsmoe, Moore’s former legal adviser and current senior counsel for the organization Foundation of Moral Law, is a slavery apologist who occasionally speaks to the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, the same organization which inspired Dylann Roof’s slaughter in South Carolina. In fact, the CCC held a ‘prayer rally’ against gay marriage in Montgomery earlier this year in association with the neoconfederate, pro-slavery League of the South. Surely these are the right people to screech about discrimination?
Moore himself will be a featured speaker at an event being held in Montgomery next month that promises to bring anti-abortion and anti-gay activism together under the confederate banner in a trifecta of reactionary revolt. Organizers hope to save American wedding chapels from the horrifying prospect of being treated just like any other public accommodation; failing that mission, their god has apparently authorized them to burn the whole country down on top of us like Sodom and Gomorrah.