Former NOM Chair Explains How Conservatives Moved The ‘Religious Freedom’ Goalposts On Marriage Equality

Robert George is a significant — though not often visible — force within the anti-equality movement. As the founding chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, co-author of the anti-gay Manhattan Declaration, and a board member of the homophobic and Islamophobic Bradley Foundation, his fingerprints can be found throughout efforts to oppose the freedom to marry. Today at the Witherspoon Institute, another anti-gay think tank with which George is affiliated, he took time to pontificate on the issue of same-sex marriage and “religious freedom,” explaining exactly how those opposed to equality (supporters of “conjugal marriage”) shifted the goalposts on the issue:

The fundamental error made by some supporters of conjugal marriage was and is, I believe, to imagine that a grand bargain could be struck with their opponents: “We will accept the legal redefinition of marriage; you will respect our right to act on our consciences without penalty, discrimination, or civil disabilities of any type. Same-sex partners will get marriage licenses, but no one will be forced for any reason to recognize those marriages or suffer discrimination or disabilities for declining to recognize them.” There was never any hope of such a bargain being accepted.

Perhaps parts of such a bargain would be accepted by liberal forces temporarily for strategic or tactical reasons, as part of the political project of getting marriage redefined; but guarantees of religious liberty and non-discrimination for people who cannot in conscience accept same-sex marriage could then be eroded and eventually removed. After all, “full equality” requires that no quarter be given to the “bigots” who want to engage in “discrimination” (people with a “separate but equal” mindset) in the name of their retrograde religious beliefs. “Dignitarian” harm must be opposed as resolutely as more palpable forms of harm.

Note the conflation George makes between whether or not religious organizations have to recognize same-sex marriage versus whether society as a whole does. Surely he’s not so narrow-minded as to believe that same-sex couples wanted to get married just so that nobody would recognize their unions! Indeed, the whole goal of marriage equality is ensuring that same-sex couples have equal access to both the legal and societal benefits and protections for their relationship and family. It’s quite pompous to believe that gays and lesbians ever offered any sort of “bargain” in which respect was sacrificed for the mere opportunity to sign a piece of paper.

What the LGBT movement has always conceded is that no church should ever have to officiate a wedding that is out of accordance with its beliefs. Otherwise, married same-sex couples should be treated like all married couples throughout society, including recognition by the government, all public accommodations, and all state-subsidized private organizations. But George doesn’t see it that way — he argues that such a simple expectation of equal treatment is actually “discrimination” against the “religious liberty” of individuals like him.

That is the flipped script that conservatives now operate from. There is no room for compromise, accommodation, or “bargain.” They argue that they have a right to treat same-sex couples as second-class citizens no matter how laws may change, and they will surely advocate that odious position for years to come.