My friend Bob Cesca wrote a great piece yesterday about so-called ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Acts,’ or RFRAs, which have rightly become known as the anti-gay version of Jim Crow laws. I’ve been sounding an alarm about this rising wave of reactionary politics for months. It’s a right wing evangelical response to the ongoing success of marriage equality cases in federal courts. Bob does a good job demolishing the central conceit:
The religious freedom clause of the First Amendment isn’t a valid excuse for slavery, segregation or vigilante justice; the free speech clause isn’t a valid excuse for slander, libel, child pornography, etc; and the 2nd Amendment isn’t a valid excuse for stockpiling cruise missiles and RPGs. Religious liberty isn’t absolute, because if it were, it’d open the door to all varieties of terrible things. Zealots who argue otherwise have probably never actually read the Bible.
This phenomenon has crystallized in Alabama, the original capital of the Confederacy, where a nullificationist Chief Justice has ordered probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in defiance of a federal court decision overturning the state’s ‘sanctity of marriage’ law. In a classic case of psychological projection, Judge Roy Moore keeps comparing the advance of marriage equality in federal courts to Plessy v Ferguson, the 1896 Supreme Court decision which opened the door for segregation and Jim Crow laws.
Meanwhile, more than fifty of the state’s 67 counties are already now complying with Judge Callie Granade’s order. Alabama’s all-Republican state supreme court has agreed to hear an appeal for an emergency writ of mandamus that would order probate judges to stop issuing licenses to same-sex couples. Reflecting this desire to withhold recognition as long as possible, state senator Del Marsh recently suggested it would be possible to withhold equal protection for same-sex couples. But this reaction to the advance of marriage equality is by no means limited to Alabama: in Washington, DC, Senator Ted Cruz is pushing the ‘State Marriage Defense Act‘ to strip equal federal protections from same-sex marriages, while his fellow 2016 contender Mike Huckabee delights anti-gay hate groups by comparing equality advocates to Nazis.
Psychological projection and Orwellian inversion of language are constant features of this anti-freedom movement, which styles itself as a liberation front for bigotry. Appropriately, this authoritarian fight is being waged by a lot of so-called ‘libertarians,’ including Rand Paul. In fact, Judge Moore will be hearing arguments from the Alabama Policy Institute, a state-level subsidiary of the Koch brothers’ ALEC organization. As Josh Israel recently noted at ThinkProgress, despite Charles and David Koch’s pretense of being socially liberal, their organizations spend a thousand times as much money to fight marriage equality as they spend supporting it.
As with the post-Reconstruction era, when states looked for ways to maintain slavery by other means, a variety of ‘revenge laws’ are being designed to punish LGBT Americans for the success of the marriage equality issue in the federal judiciary. These bills will please the rabid homophobes in the conservative base, require expensive litigation to overturn, and in the fullness of time they might forever fix the Republican Party to an ugly political agenda, becoming a millstone around the party’s neck. The only question is how much damage the culture war right can do to the GOP — and the nation — by enforcing this extremist plank within the party.
Should this Supreme Court render a decision to let every American marry someone they love instead of someone approved by the state, an increasingly-narrow and ugly band of the conservative spectrum will work tirelessly to undo it. There is no question that anti-equality activists will see RFRAs as an outlet for their anger.
The results are conspicuously mean-spirited. In recent days, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has removed state anti-discrimination protections for LGBTs; Florida legislator Frank Artiles has filed a bill to criminalize transgender restroom use; in Colorado, where a cakeshop was successfully sued for refusing service to a gay couple, a different baker is being sued for civil rights violations after refusing to bake cakes with homophobic messages. But the Arkansas legislature may have gone farthest to date by banning cities from enacting protections for LGBTs. In a followup piece today, Bob Cesca notes that there are no saner heads in charge of the Natural State:
The Arkansas economy, on the other hand, is clearly irrelevant to the Republican legislature and governor there which seems more interested in gay-bashing than robust economic growth and successful, healthy businesses. There’s no doubt that hardline conservatives will continue to build new and clever ways to block the rising tide of LGBT rights and marriage equality, even if it means damaging the economy and entrenching themselves squarely on the wrong side of history.
While these efforts are clear violations of the 14th Amendment, it is worth noting that three Constitutional Amendments did not persuade racist white Americans to stop imposing violent white supremacy for decades. A variety of soft, hard, civil, and federal pressures eventually became necessary to end the worst abuses of Jim Crow and segregation, including more than a few Supreme Court rulings, and the conservative movement has enjoyed some troubling successes at overturning those gains lately. By consistently arguing to an indulgent majority of justices that personal belief trumps equal protection, the empowered religious right now believes they can construct a novel ‘freedom to discriminate‘ in law. They will shove this ‘freedom agenda’ through city councils, legislatures, conservative media, and the courts, and they will do this until they win, even if they lose.
Even if the Republican Party loses.
Even if we all lose.
They will do it because they believe they are on the right side of God, who can fix that “wrong side of history” problem for them. And He must approve of what they’re doing, because look at all this mysterious dark money their organizations keep getting.