In case you haven’t been paying attention to the enormous Charlie Foxtrot that is American politics right now: By the end of the month, the Supreme Court is going to weigh on Obergefeld v. Hodges, the name for four linked cases challenging same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee.
The expectation by virtually everyone is that the court will overturn marriage bans, and the response from the religious right has been…well, if not apoplectic, certainly defiant. Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said at a recent meeting of the convention (where the SBC passed a resolution in which they – and don’t be shocked here – vowed to keep supporting the homophobic status quo regarding marriage equality) that he said he would never officiate a gay wedding, conjuring up the spirit of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the process. (His gay friends are presumably devastated.)
And then there’s a bunch of religious righters vowing to “defy” any ruling that overturns gay marriage bans.
But the resistance isn’t just coming from religious groups. It’s also coming from government officials, such as Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore’s obfuscation in the wake of the 11th Circuit’s overturning of that state’s gay marriage ban. And North Carolina’s state legislature even managed to override their Republican governor’s veto to pass a law that allows local magistrates to decline to issue marriage licenses that violate their religious beliefs.
In the past few months, though, these Republican-controlled state legislatures have gotten even more creative. In Oklahoma, the state House passed H.B. 1125, which – at first – eliminated marriage licenses in favor of “certificates of marriage” submitted by clergy alone and subsequently prohibited judges from issuing such certificates. (The bill’s sponsor, under pressure to pull the legislation entirely, amended it so that judges could officiate weddings again. This move has been widely seen as confusing and contradictory, at best.) That bill currently languishes in the Senate Rules committee and has not come to a vote in that chamber.
And just this past week, Republicans in Michigan put forth legislation to require clergy to sign off on a marriage license, taking that responsibility entirely out of the hands of municipal and judicial officials.
As someone who’s still fighting this battle at the state level, this might seem like reason to be discouraged. After all, legislation like this pushes back not only against the inexorable path to marriage equality but even against the right of citizens to have a civil ceremony, let alone a secular one performed by a secular celebrant. This is the opposite of what I’ve been fighting for.
But I say this to any legislator who wants to push utterly unconstitutional bills like this:
Bring it on.
The marriage equality fight is almost certainly about to be lost, and soon. The fight for secular celebrants to be recognized proceeds slowly, but I believe that fight will move forward soon. The biggest obstacle we face, as I see it, is that too many people either don’t know that we’re pushing for this change or don’t care.
You know what could make them care? State legislators deciding to push legislation that gives religious groups the power of gatekeeper to marriage.
You know what could help us get our day in court? Judges hearing cases about clearly unconstitutional laws, in which we can also point out the additional injustice of being treated differently as celebrants just for not being religious.
Yes, the battle moves slowly. There’s been a little progress in Minnesota, and Oregon already has secular celebrant legislation through one chamber (it’s in the Rules Committee in the state Senate). Progress elsewhere is even slower.
But we are progressing on this front, and I don’t think Americans want to go backward. Attempts to pull us that direction are more likely to arouse frustration than to result in success for the myopic legislators trying to prevent the inevitable move away from bigotry and discrimination toward equality.
Consider the gauntlet thrown down. Your move, state legislators.
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