When it comes to our issues, no one expects Alabama to be San Francisco with a Southern drawl. But even by that state’s conservative standards, Judge Roy Moore stands out. Moore has made a career as a culture warrior in the courtroom. And now he’s about to ride that career right into the U.S. Senate.
Moore is most famously known for putting a monument of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom and refusing to remove it despite being ordered to do so for violating the separation of Church and State. He lost his job as a result, only to have Alabama voters return him to it a decade later, in 2013.
The intervening years did nothing to lessen Moore’s extemism. Instead of the Ten Commandments, he used his return to the bench to make his cause attacking LGBTQ equality. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that marriage equality was the law of the land, Moore used his seat on the state high court to prohibit Alabama from issuing marriage licenses.
Legally, the move was completely unjustifiable. But politically, it was genius. It established Moore once again as the man of principle willing to risk his job for (homophobic) principles. The decision was just what he needed to boost his visibility among conservative evangelical voters, of which there is no shortage in Alabama.
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Even Alabama has its limits, and Moore was suspended from the bench for his stunt, eventually resigning after losing an appeal. But with the appointment of Sen. Jeff Sessions as Trump’s Attorney General, Moore saw his opening for a comeback.
Moore has used his Senate campaign to push his homophobic views. He has stated that the U.S. may be a focus of evil in the world because of same-sex marriage. He also has declared that he was persecuted for his faith when he was suspended from the bench.
The party establishment in Alabama has lined up behind Luther Strange, who was appointed to take over Sessions’ spot until a special election could be held. But Moore upset the party’s plans with a strong second place finish in the primary and is now leading Strange in some polls. Strange won’t be grand marshall in a pride parade anytime soon, but he represents the more genteel version of homophobia that characterizes modern-day conservatives, compared to the Moore’s spittle-flecked approach.
If anything, Moore is reminiscent of the most homophobic Senator of modern times: Jesse Helms. The main difference is that Helms’ heyday was 20 years ago.
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Moore’s ascendancy is a sign that the culture wars are back in full force. Steve Bannon’s Breitbart News has gone all in on Moore’s candidacy, even though Bannon’s former boss, President Trump, endorsed Strange. Moore is exactly the type of extremist who appeals to the far-right base that Breitbart has been activating.
And if Moore is elected? Don’t underestimate the damage a single Senator can do. He can put holds on appointments he doesn’t like, for example. More to the point, his election will spook other Republicans, who fear primary attacks from the right. His election would prove yet again that being a bigot is no bar to success.
Unfortunately, that will embolden another crop of homophobic candidates aching to follow in his footsteps.