Anticipation of Friday’s Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling inspired conservatives to engage in a lot of defensive posturing. Some have called for “civil disobedience” and warned that nationwide marriage equality will have consequences for religious liberty. Focus on the Family’s political arm, CitizenLink, posted a video last week citing the “fallout” that will supposedly now follow the decision, which serves as a potential road map to the hot spots where opponents might still put up a fight.
What’s telling about this litany of concerns is that they all boil down to attempts to reject or ignore the legal validity of same-sex marriages or somehow discriminate against same-sex couples. Here’s a look at CitizenLink’s list of marriage equality fears and what they actually mean by them.
“The tax-exempt status of non-profit ministries and organizations will be under attack nationwide.”
This refers to a question Justice Samuel Alito asked during the oral arguments in April in the Obergefell v. Hodges case. Would a school that opposes same-sex marriage meet the same fate as Bob Jones University, which lost its tax-exempt status for opposing interracial marriage or dating? As ThinkProgress has previously explained, the comparison is not accurate, because the issue in the Bob Jones case was not the school’s position on interracial relations, but its actual discrimination against students who engaged in them. Moreover, even a school that does engage in the same kind of discrimination against students in same-sex relationships might not be at risk because of the incomplete patchwork of nondiscrimination laws protecting sexual orientation. Either way, the tax-exempt status would only be at risk if actual discrimination is playing out.
“Parents will have no say in what their children are taught about relationships and marriage in public schools. No notice in advance. No chance to opt out.”
Conservatives regularly object to any content in schools that even acknowledges the existence of gay people, their relationships, or their families. They argue that homosexuality is all about sex and that parents should be able to teach their own kids what to believe about it — or simply protect them from hearing about it whatsoever. As the “princess” ad from the Prop 8 campaign in California demonstrated, this stems from the antiquated but not forgotten myth that children can somehow be recruited or persuaded to be gay simply by being exposed to information about gay people.
With marriage equality available nationwide, the number of same-sex families will surely increase. In turn, the likelihood of children having classmates with same-sex parents will also continue to climb. In many cases, schools won’t have to read a book like King & King for kids to learn about same-sex families, but they may still rely on such tools to help kids better understand the diversity of their classmates and combat bullying. If parents truly want to prevent their kids from learning about “relationships and marriage” in a same-sex-inclusive way, they may have to either opt their children out of school entirely or find a way to ostracize same-sex families from the school community.
“Teachers who express support for marriage may be fired.”
There has been no shortage of teachers who have been fired for being gay or for simply announcing intentions to marry their same-sex partner — mostly from Catholic schools. But CitizenLink is talking about teachers who get in trouble for opposing same-sex marriage. In a few cases, teachers have made remarks outside of the classroom that have caused their schools to be concerned about whether they are fit to work with students, but in most of those cases, the teachers have kept their jobs.
For example, in 2011, Florida high school teacher Jerry Buell posted on Facebook that he “almost threw up” watching a news story about same-sex marriage, urging, “Don’t insult a man and woman’s marriage by throwing it in the same cesspool as same-sex whatever!” He was suspended for three days while the school investigated, then reinstated.
In a more recent example, Patricia Jannuzzi, a teacher at a Catholic school in New Jersey, was suspended after she posted an anti-marriage equality position on Facebook back in April. She wrote that marriage equality proponents “want to reengineer western civ into a slow extinction,” describing homosexuality as something chosen not comparable to race or disability. Jannuzzi, like Buell, got to keep her job.
Teachers’ free speech outside the classroom is still guaranteed. The problem is the increasing awareness that disparaging people for their sexuality is just as detestable as making comments that are racist or sexist. If schools feel that teachers’ comments are offensive or reflect too poorly on the school — particularly when made quite publicly on social media — it is the school’s prerogative to ensure a safe learning environment for all students.
In the meantime, it remains true that only gay teachers and their supporters have actually lost their jobs over the issue of same-sex marriage.
“Christian college accreditation will be attacked.”
So far, the only Christian university that has had its accreditation challenged was Gordon College in Massachusetts. Last year, after President Obama issued an executive order requiring all federal contractors not to discriminate against LGBT people, Gordon president D. Michael Lindsay joined other religious leaders in asking the White House for a religious exemption. The higher education commission of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) considered whether Gordon’s policy of forbidding “homosexual practice” ran afoul of its standards for accreditation.
This April, NEASC and Gordon issued a joint statement confirming that the college would retain its accreditation status, but Gordon did agree to some new initiatives to educate its communities about LGBT people. On its own website, Gordon College asserted, “Contrary to many media stories during the last few months, Gordon’s accreditation was not in jeopardy.”
If Gordon had actually lost its accreditation, it would only have been because of irreconcilable policies that discriminate against LGBT people, which was the commission’s primary concern.
“Government-backed student-loans at those colleges will go away.”
Student loans have never been threatened as such at any university, so this particular conservative fear is conjecture that builds upon the other fears. It seems likely that if the marriage equality decision would lead to a threat to educational funding, the IRS and state tax agencies would first have to make new policy decisions. That would be a long process and one that would likely allow for input from the potentially impacted schools.
Nevertheless, fear is a powerful force, and at least one school has already decided on its own to stop accepting federal aid. In April, Wyoming Catholic College announced it was joining a few other religious colleges in refusing to participate in federal student-aid programs. That means no federal loans, work-study money, or grants could be applied to students’ tuition costs. The young unaccredited school argues that the clean break is necessary to adhere to its religious values. Other schools that decline federal dollars include Christendom College in Virginia, Hillsdale College in Michiganm and New St. Andrews College in Idaho. In all cases, this was a choice made by the school, not one forced by the government.
“Faith-based adoption agencies will be forced out of business.”
There are a number of stories of faith-based adoption agencies — Catholic Charities in almost every case — shutting down after the arrival of marriage equality, but in none of those cases was an agency “forced out of business.”
In Massachusetts, Illinois, and D.C., Catholic Charities voluntarily shut down for political purposes. In no case did the law force them to shut down or force them to adopt to same-sex couples. What did happen is that the agency’s access to state funding was dependent upon not discriminating. They could have continued to operate in a discriminatory fashion without support from the taxpayers, or they could have stopped discriminating to continue functioning with the government subsidies. In all three cases, Catholic Charities just gave up on the charity of adoption entirely.
Catholic Charities’ political motives against the recognition of same-sex unions was most evident in Colorado. In 2012, Colorado lawmakers considered a civil unions bill that had broad exemptions for religious organization, including adoption agencies like Catholic Charities. Officials from the organization nevertheless testified that they would “discontinue our service in adoption and foster care” if the bill passed. There wasn’t even funding on the line — it would have been an act of pure protest. That legislation ultimately failed, and when a different civil unions bill passed a year later — over Catholic Charities’ same objections — it didn’t offer the same exemptions. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Colorado since October, and Catholic Charities is still functioning normally there.
If any adoption agency shuts down over marriage equality, it will be because the organization prioritizes discriminating against same-sex couples over finding families for children.
“Christian business owners, wedding photographers, cake bakers, florists, etc, will be sued for discrimination if they turn down business for a same-sex ceremony.”
It’s true that business owners have been sued for discrimination, and they have lost in every case. That’s because they violated states’ nondiscrimination ordinances. The New Mexico photographer, the Colorado baker, the Oregon bakers, the Washington florist, the Iowa art gallery, the Vermont inn, the New York farm, and the Hawaii bed and breakfast all refused to provide the same service to same-sex couples that they provide to different-sex couples, and they all did so in states that ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Though these cases affected same-sex couples, it was not the legality of marriage equality that was responsible for them; it was laws guaranteeing equal access to goods and services.
“Churches [that] open up their buildings to outside groups will be sued if they turn down events such as a reception for a same-sex wedding.”
This concern is actually the same as the last. What matters is whether or not a church offers its property for use as a public accommodation. If a church wants to rent out its space for non-church functions, it may do so, but it cannot then pick and choose who it rents to based on religious reasons.
This fear reflects what played out with a beach-side pavilion owned by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a Methodist church organization in New Jersey. The property actually benefited from a Green Acres real-estate tax exemption, a state subsidy that supports conservation and recreation — not a religious tax exemption. When the Association refused to let a same-sex couple host a civil union ceremony there, it was found in violation of its agreement with the state to provide “equal access.” The Pavilion is now covered by a religious exemption and the Association no longer makes it available for public rental.
Churches would only face the treat of a lawsuit if they attempt to profit off of renting out their properties and then arbitrarily discriminate against same-sex couples.
“Faith-based charities and relief organizations that get money from the government will see those grants go away.”
There is no evidence that government funding of faith-based initiatives is in danger over the issue of same-sex marriage. As with adoption agencies, this would only become a concern if an organization accepted taxpayer money and then refused to serve all people equally.
“The freedom of Christian organizations to hire people who are in harmony with their beliefs will be attacked.”
This again reflects an intent to discriminate against people based on their sexuality. Conservative groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom have already outlined a strategy to pretend that all employees at a religious organization have a “ministerial” duty in hopes that will justify discriminatory hiring practices.
“Members of the military who disagree will be challenged.”
There have been a few incidents where members of the military claim they were punished because of their religious beliefs, but in the facts of their cases, it was their actions, not their beliefs, that caused them problems.
For example, Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Monk claimed that in 2013, he was relieved of duties because he refused to agree with a commanding officer on the issue of same-sex marriage. What actually happened is that she directed him to punish someone under his supervision who had inappropriately promoted his own anti-gay religious beliefs in a mandatory training. Monk refused to follow the order and was reassigned — to a new position commensurate with his rank and experience. He retired in 2014, receiving a prestigious award for his performance and conduct.
This past March, Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder was issued a “detachment for cause” letter because of the way he conducted himself as a Navy chaplain at the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command. He shamed female students for premarial sex and out-of-wedlock pregnancy and told several students that homosexuality was wrong and that he could “save” gay people. This violated his responsibility to serve the needs of all service members, not force his religious beliefs upon them. Chaplains must be willing “to function in a pluralistic environment” and “to support directly and indirectly the free exercise of religion” of all individuals they might minister to. Modder did not.
“People who work for city and county governments who express support for marriage may lose their jobs.”
This is the issue that has come up most immediately since Friday’s ruling. In Texas, for example, Attorney General Ken Paxton is encouraging county clerks not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if they believe doing so would violate their religious beliefs. As blogger Hemant Mehta frames it, “In short, if you have religious objections to doing the job you were hired to do, Paxton is letting you off the hook. If you get sued, well, they’ll do their best to protect you, but you’re on your own since you’ll probably lose.”
North Carolina lawmakers similarly passed a law this month guaranteeing that state magistrates do not have to issue marriage licenses, though it does not let them pick and choose which couples they’ll marry and which they won’t.
Perhaps more alarmingly, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) also said Friday that the state would not take action against any state officials who refuse to act because of their religious beliefs, including those responsible for granting benefits. Thus, a married same-sex couple could hypothetically be denied, or at least delayed, a benefit they are entitled to under law because of a single official’s religious beliefs.
The coming weeks will likely demonstrate to what extent government officials can refuse to recognize same-sex couples’ marriages in the course of their duties.
What’s evident from this long list of “religious liberty” fears is that conservatives are not actually afraid of same-sex marriage itself. After all, nobody is being forced to marry someone of the same sex, nor are any religious leaders being forced to officiate such marriages nor denominations being forced to welcome such marriages. It is anti-gay discrimination and disparagement that are at the root of conservatives’ fears.