NEW YORK — The US Supreme Court delivered a tacit victory for advocates of gay marriage on Monday, refusing to hear appeals on whether individual states can ban marriage between same-sex couples.
As a result, 11 more states are likely to join the 19 already permitting gay marriage, leaving only 20 to go before the entire nation is draped in rainbow equality. That means roughly 60% of Americans now live in states where equal marriage is legal.
However, as campaigners pointed out the fight isn’t over until the Supreme Court provides a ruling covering all 50 states, bringing the country to what Evan Wolfson of the group Freedom to Marry called a “nationwide resolution”.
Still, the court’s sidestepping of the issue is a huge blow to America’s Christian right and advocates for the “sanctity” of traditional marriage – many of who reacted to the decision like this…
Public opinion in the US has so overwhelmingly moved in favour of gay marriage in recent years that even the Republican Party – nothing more than a vassal for well-financed bigotry of late – was reluctant to speak out against the court’s rejection.
Apart, of course, from Texas Senator Ted Cruz and his Utah factotum Mike Lee, with the latter echoing the former in condemning the court for “abdicating its duty to uphold the Constitution” and allow individual states to define marriage.
This would be the same sacred constitution Cruz now wants to amend to reverse the “tragic and indefensible” decision. Yet that was nothing compared to the collective stamping of feet across America’s heartland, as the Godly voiced their disapproval.
Take Peter LaBarbera, a social conservative activist and president of the pithily named Americans For Truth About Homosexuality, who concluded that as a result of the court’s decision Americans “live not in freedom but under tyranny”.
Allowing same-sex couple to marry was so egregious that LaBarbera even called for “civil disobedience on a massive scale”.
“God is not mocked: the Scriptures are clear that homosexual practice is an offense against both God and the very bodies of those who practice it (as is all sexual immorality),” he trumpeted.
Then there was Gordon Klingenschmitt, a former Navy chaplain who was once court-martialed for turning up to an anti-Obama rally in uniform, and who now makes a living on Christian TV.
He reacted with bluster, reminding his followers that “sodomy is still banned by God in all 50 states” and “God will have the last word”. He added: “Every child has a right to a mom and dad. Cruel judges now deny kids’ rights in 30 states.”
The Family Research Council was equally vexed, releasing a statement saying the court had “undermine[d] natural marriage and the rule of law”.
“As more and more people lose their livelihoods because they refuse to not just tolerate but celebrate same-sex marriage, Americans will see the true goal, which is for activists to use the Court to impose a redefinition of natural marriage on the entire nation,” the council squawked.
Focus on the Family similarly bellowed, “marriage has always been – and will always be – between a man and a woman… Ultimately, no court can change that truth”. More ominously the Faith and Freedom Coalition promised the Supreme Court that it would “reap a political whirlwind” for their inaction.
Troublingly for the GOP, the court’s decision has placed equal marriage back at the forefront of the national debate, and with a presidential election in 2016, it is not an issue prospective candidates can hope to duck – no matter how many times they deflect to “jobs” and “the economy”.
During the presidential primaries, the Christian right will expect Republican candidates to come out forcefully in favour of “traditional marriage” – anyone that doesn’t is unlikely to get nominated by the party.
Yet – and here’s the real quandary – any candidate that opposes equal marriage has almost zero chance of winning a national election. Short of praying for the Rapture, it’s a conundrum the Republican Party and its overly influential Christian base has yet to solve.
On Wednesday the Senate in Arizona passed legislation that would allow businesses and state employees to deny services to any customer based on their religious beliefs.
Pushed through by the state’s Republican majority, proponents of the Bill argued that it was required to protect business owners from legal action should they refuse to offer services on religious grounds. However, opponents contended that the legislation was tantamount to state-backed discrimination, with same-sex couples the most likely target.
In November, the UK Supreme Court ruled against Peter and Hazelmary Bull, devout Christians who refused a gay couple lodgings in their bed and breakfast hotel because it “violated their faith”. The Bulls were challenging an earlier court decision that forced them to pay £5,000 in damages, with the case going someway to clarify Britain’s current legal standing on matters of sexual orientation versus religious liberty.
In the US, the question of equal rights versus religious convictions is far less settled, with predominantly conservative state legislatures currently looking to push back against the federal overturning of a ban on same-sex marriage last June.
The Arizona Bill states: “Exercise of religion means the practice or observance of religion, including the ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.”
In opposition, Arizona Senate Democratic Leader Anna Tovar described the Bill as “discrimination under the guise of religious freedom,” adding, “with the express consent of Republicans in this Legislature, many Arizonans will find themselves members of a separate and unequal class under this law because of their sexual orientation”. Senator Steve Yarbrough, one of Bill’s sponsors, rejected Tovar’s evaluation, arguing that it serves to “prevent discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith”.
Similar legislation designed the protect religious liberty has been floated in Idaho, Kansas, South Dakota, Kansas and Tennessee. All have been struck down, with opponents arguing successfully that the proposal would not only discriminate against same-sex couples, but would provide legal backing for prejudice based on race, religion, sex, nationality, age, familial status or disability.
Should the Bill pass the House of Representatives, Arizona will stand alone as a solitary success for those campaigning on the grounds of religious liberty. Yet the push back against the repeal of the Defence of Marriage act is just part of a wider trend in the US, with the evangelical wing of the GOP determined to drive state law more into line with Biblical law, most notably in the religious lobbying to restrict access to abortions – even in cases of rape and incest.
In the post 9/11 paranoia, journalist Oriana Fallaci popularised the idea of Europe being consumed by Islamification, a notion given crude lip service in the UK by the English Defence League (EDL) and the rhetoric of “creeping Sharia”. Yet in the US the threat of religious literalism is far less fatuous, with the mainstream (albeit fractured) Republican Party openly invoking God’s word to justify discrimination against homosexuals.
Yet with a series of court rulings reversing bans on same-sex marriage, even if Arizona’s Bill does become law (it is expected to pass the state House), the faithful will still have a long way to go to push back the onrushing tide of secularism in the US. Jefferson’s “wall of separation” between church and state remains in place… albeit with a few bricks soon chipped off.
On Friday, a bill opening marriage and adoption to same-sex couples passed the French Senate, following a week of intense, often acrimonious debate. “We simply acknowledge full citizenship for gay couples,” said Christine Taubira, the French Minister of Justice, following completion of the controversial vote. The Bill will now return to the National Assembly, which has already approved the proposition, for a second reading, followed by a final reading in the upper house.
Two days earlier in Montevideo, Uruguayan campaigners packed the public seats of the legislative building to watch lawmakers vote in favour of allowing gay marriage by a majority of 71 to 92.
According to Federico Grana, the leader of a gay rights group that drafted the proposal, the vote represented “an historic moment” for Uruguay, a country that becomes the third across the American continent, following Canada and, more surprisingly, the deeply Catholic Argentina, to recognise equality in marriage.
Before this week, eleven countries had already passed legislation to allow same-sex marriage, with 10 other states, including Britain and Ireland, currently in the process of pushing through bills.
Although change may appear to be happening at pace, the campaign for gay rights is decades old, with incremental steps leading back to the sixties responsible for the swathe of parliamentary successes currently being celebrated by advocates around the globe.
As human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell told The Huffington Post UK: “Marriage equality is an idea whose time has come. It’s an unstoppable global trend.” It’s a sentiment BJ Epstein, a lecturer at the University of East Anglia who specialises in queer literature, agrees with.
“Governments are starting to look quite ridiculous not giving equal rights to all people and all relationships,” she tells The Huffington Post UK. “In a few years people are going to wonder why it took such a long time.”
But why has it taken such a long time for governments to recognise such a basic principle as equality in marriage for same-sex couples? For Stanislas Kraland, a journalist for the Le Huffington Post who has reported extensively on the gay marriage debate in France, the answer is both generational and political.
“The answer stems from an analysis of who is against gay marriage in France,” he said. “It’s the elderly, right-wingers (because gay marriage is a left wing project) and the majority of Catholics. That’s a lot of potential voters.”
The Netherlands became the first country to pass gay marriage legislation in 2001, which Kraland argues, in sociological terms, is only very recent, while the push for equality in this area only started in France in the 1990s.
“During the 1970s, French homosexuals were against the idea of marriage per se,” he said, however, once equality became an issue for the French homosexual community in the Nineties, the law moved relatively quickly, making civil unions legal in 1999, and same-sex marriage legal this year.
In Britain, civil partnerships were made legal in 2004, while the current gay marriage Bill wrestled its way through the House of Commons in February, and is due to be debated in the House of Lords later this year. Following amendments, the Bill should be handed back to the Commons, with political commentators expecting it to be signed into law by the end of the year.
Unlike many of the countries that have already passed legislation, most notably Spain and Argentina, Britain isn’t saddled with a strong religious voice to offer sustained opposition. Yet, rather than pioneer gay marriage, as some might expect from such a secular society, the UK has lagged behind Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and even South Africa.
“People are becoming less religious which helps,” said Epstein, “but in many ways the UK is a rather conservative country. As a foreigner living in the UK (she’s originally from Chicago), Epstein admitted she has been surprised at just how conservative the British are. “If you go to places like London and Manchester it’s very diverse, but go to a small city or town and it’s not diverse at all. People are scared of otherness.”
Still, the lecturer believes the world has reached a tipping point on gay marriage. “Some countries are going to take a long time, but I think we’ve got there and it is just a matter for the other countries to catch up.”
So with much of Europe adopting or having adopted equality for same-sex couples, campaigners are now looking towards the next major battle, the USA. Still, for Epstein there’s plenty of optimism.
“Even conservative religious people in the US are beginning to see that they have no choice but to go along with it,” she said.
Since Obama’s re-election last year, arguably a watershed moment for the GOP, which was plagued throughout the campaign by outspoken representatives offering a series of public faux pas on social issues, a number of politicians have “evolved” their thinking on the issue of gay marriage.
At the time of publication of this article, 14 Senators – 13 Democrats and one Republican – had publically changed their views in favour of accepting gay marriage in the past month alone, along with former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Whether this is a genuine evolution in thinking, or just the realisation that opposing equality is not a vote winner, is up for debate. Either way, the 2012 election marked a significant step forward for gay rights in the United States with three states voting in favour of gay marriage, while Wisconsin, the home state of Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, elected the first ever openly gay senator, Tammy Baldwin.
Other social issues came to the fore, with a record number of women voted into office, as well as several states voting to legalise cannabis. As a colleague quipped the morning after the election, “Americans woke up gayer, more female and slightly stoned.”
For Noah Michelson, the Editor of Huff Post Gay Voices in the US, the post-election change has been driven by two factors. “It’s both people truly evolving with their thinking, but also not wanting to be seen as having fallen on the wrong side of history,” he said.
“I don’t think we can discount that, as it gets easier for people to come out of the closet, more people than ever know someone who is LGBT… and these personal relationships really can transform the way someone (re) considers equal rights.”
Last year’s election also brought into focus the political necessity for change on this issue. “Many politicians are realising that marriage equality is heading our way whether they like it or not and if they don’t come out in favour of it, they’re going to look foolish – and it could even cost them their positions,” said Michelson.
For Epstein, it’s a matter of urgency that the US adopts equality in marriage. “Many countries look to the US, and for a country that’s so religious and so conservative to say ‘yes, we accept gay marriage’, it would be a huge boost for the cause. Other countries would take note.”
And there’s the rub: America remains a country deeply enthralled by God and, unlike many other countries in the first world, America’s brand of religion is not only political but has a very loud voice.
“Religious opposition to gay marriage is still a huge issue in the US,” said Michelson, “but not necessarily because the majority of people actually believe that marriage equality is antithetical to believing in the Bible, but because the far Right and Evangelical movement is so vocal and has worked so tirelessly to ensure that their message is heard.”
Still, the Defence Of Marriage Act (DOMA) is currently under review, with the Supreme Court due to decide in June whether it should be overturned, paving the way for states where gay marriage is legal to be afforded federal marriage rights.
Yet the grand prize – national legalisation – remains obscure. As Michelson said: “I do not think we will see gay marriage legalised on a national level any time soon… if ever. It’s frustrating to have gay marriage be decided on a state by state level because in my view, we’re talking about basic civil and equal rights.”
Casting the current fight for equality as a civil right places the campaign in a broader context, one that perhaps mirrors the civil rights movement of the sixties. The importance of the first decade of the 21st century as a social revolution is a question for future sociologists to debate, yet for Epstein, there’s little doubt: “It hard to predict the future, but I think it will be viewed as a moment of change, similar to the way we look back on civil rights or giving women the right to vote.”
As a note of caution, though the trend in the first world is seemingly heading in the right direction, many countries around the world, particularly in Africa and Eastern Europe, appear to be going the opposite way.
This week, a human rights activist was granted bail in Zambia after being arrested for calling for gay relationships to be decriminalised on live TV, while in January, Russian lawmakers passed a bill making gay public events and the dissemination of information about the LGBT community to children punishable by a fine of up to $16,000. In the Muslim world, basic human rights for LGBT individuals is a battle yet to be won.
Still, Tatchell remains certain on the course of history: “The ban on same-sex marriage will eventually go the way of the ban on inter-racial marriage. In a democratic society, everyone should be equal before the law. Most people accept that, which is why the ban will sooner or later be history.”
A Quinnipiac University poll released last week revealed that Michele Bachmann had consolidated her position as the second place candidate behind Mitt Romney in the race for the Republican Presidential nomination. According to the figures, the senator from Minnesota now commands 14 per cent of the national vote, near doubling her support amongst Republicans in the last month. Yet despite a solid showing in the recent CNN debate, her rise remains as baffling to many Americans as it does to those monitoring events from further afield.
In a week in which the scandal engulfing the UK saw the main political parties round on Rupert Murdoch hoping that condemnation leads to disassociation, it is heartening to know that we can nearly always rely on our politicians to do what’s in their own best interests. Ideological motivations and the occasional twinge of altruism aside, convictions in Westminster seem to bend according to the prevailing wind.
For Bachmann, however, public office seems less inspired by the trappings of power and status and more informed by the certainty of her faith. This is politics as an extension of religious belief, with her candidacy a national platform on which to evangelise the Christian message.
Faith and politics have long been bedfellows across the Atlantic, with every president since Abraham Lincoln paying lip service to The Almighty. It’s a sage move; as recently as 2007 a Gallup Poll suggested that more than 50 per cent of the franchise would not vote for a non-believing presidential candidate.
Many have used this to their advantage, most recently Sarah Palin who frequently used scripture to bolster a populist message that now manifests itself in the occasional Tweet or Facebook update. However, even the most ardent Palin devotee would find it difficult to argue that the book-hawking, reality TV star was in it for anything other than personal gain.
Bachmann, though, seems different, espousing a brand of politics built on an unerring and literal belief in biblical teaching that, until recently, would have discounted her from a serious tilt at the White House. It’s still early in the campaign, and her recent surge may well deflate. Then again, it may not.
The senator’s intellectual underpinnings are explored by Michelle Goldberg in her recent profile in The Daily Beast, summarised by “a biblical world view” that instructs her “entire perception of reality”. This is manifested most noticeably in her campaigns against abortion and gay marriage. Only last month, she argued that her challenge to legal abortion does not exclude cases of “rape, incest, or the life of the mother.” In regards to gay marriage, she has built a career rallying against her perceived homosexual threat, abridged to such choice statements as:
“Don’t misunderstand. I am not here bashing people who are homosexuals, who are lesbians, who are bisexual, who are transgender. We need to have profound compassion for people who are dealing with the very real issue of sexual dysfunction in their life and sexual identity disorders.”
Speaking on same sex marriage and the gay community:
“This is a very serious matter, because it is our children who are the prize for this community, they are specifically targeting our children.”
Aside from a few ramblings on chastity from Ann Widdecombe, religion has remained taboo in modern British political life, so much so that Tony Blair had to wait to leave office before he could declare himself a converted Catholic. In contrast, the influence of evangelicalism on the US political stage has been steadily growing since the Seventies, culminating in the election of George W. Bush, propelled to office twice on the support of the faithful.
The election of Barack Obama was a backwards step for their cause however, in the years since he took office the religious right has regained ground by forging an alliance with the equally active Tea Party movement. Fiscal conservatives merging with social conservatives under the banner of what some commentators are calling “Teavangicals”. As Ed Kilgore points out in a recent article for The New Republic:
“Christian Right elites, for their own peculiar reasons, have become enthusiastic participants in the drive to combat Big Government and its enablers in both parties. It’s no accident that one red-hot candidate for president, Michele Bachmann, and a much-discussed likely candidate, Rick Perry, each have one foot planted in the Christian Right and another in the Tea Party Movement.”
It should be noted that Mike Huckabee’s withdrawal from the race and Palin’s no-show has left Bachmann the most high profile evangelical candidate by default, while the anti-establishment fervour produced by the economic bailout will no doubt have bolstered the senator who flaunts her grass root connections every time she steps atop a stand, soap box or podium.
Still, that a candidate with beliefs so entrenched as to openly espouse sexual bigotry and the denial of abortion even in the case of rape has got so far should provide a stark reminder that however corrupt, deceitful and self-serving our own politicians appear to be, at least we don’t have to deal with the blind certainty of faith.