As the Supreme Court weighs the merits of allowing gay and lesbian Americans the freedom to marry, right-wing anti-equality advocates are cranking the fearmongering up to 11, claiming that a world of marriage equality is one that would functionally ban Christians from practicing their religion.
Two Fox News contributors, independently and in other outlets, made dire predictions along these lines. Todd Starnes, speaking on American Family Radio, argued that “persecution [of Christians] like we have never seen it” had “already started” as a consequence of the marriage equality movement:
STARNES: You know, it’s as if we’re second-class citizens now because we support the traditional, Biblical definition of marriage, or perhaps we are pro-life, and that means we’re somehow second-class citizens who don’t deserve to be in the public marketplace of ideas.
RIOS (HOST): Absolutely. In fact, it’ll be worse than that. You know there’s going to be punishment. There will be tremendous punishment. If gay marriage is embraced by the country, if the Supreme Court goes south this week in its hearings, we are in for – of course, we’re not going to hear about it until June – but we are in for persecution like we have never seen it.
STARNES: Well, it’s already started.
In reality, every piece of marriage equality legislation that’s been passed around country has included legal exemptions preventing clergymembers and religious institutions from being forced to provide marriage-related services to LGBT Americans. Indeed, as a recent a CAP report shows, these exemptions have become increasingly broad as marriage equality advances, suggesting more, not less, sensitivity to the views of religious opponents of same-sex marriage.
Another Fox News contributor, Erick Erickson, went further. Writing on RedState, a conservative blog that’s commonly read by Republican legislators, Erickson fantasized about a world where the United States government — with a Congress that is roughly 80 percent Christian — began terrorizing Christian institutions, shuttering Christian businesses for opposing marriage equality, and labeling Christians themselves criminals:
Any Christian who refuses to recognize that man wants to upend God’s order will have to be driven from the national conversation. They will be labeled bigots and ultimately criminals…Once the world decides that real marriage is something other than natural or Godly, those who would point it out must be silenced and, if not, punished. The state must be used to do this. Consequently, the libertarian pipe dream of getting government out of marriage can never ever be possible.
Within a year or two we will see Christian schools attacked for refusing to admit students whose parents are gay. We will see churches suffer the loss of their tax exempt status for refusing to hold gay weddings. We will see private businesses shut down because they refuse to treat as legitimate that which perverts God’s own established plan. In some places this is already happening.
Erickson here is arguing for a broad-based license to discriminate against LGBT Americans. Other than the wedding case addressed above, Erickson’s examples aren’t situations where freedom of conscience or freedom to worship in the way your religion dictates are at stake. Rather, he’s asking that schools and businesses, two of society’s most basic institutions, be given carte blanche to discriminate against gay parents or patrons merely because they’re gay. It’s the difference between the freedom to be racist and the freedom to kick black people out of your store for being black — and there’s a reason why society protects the former but punishes the latter.