It’s one thing to be unhappy with a Supreme Court ruling. It’s entirely another to announce in advance that you will actively disobey it. That’s the tact that the religious right is taking in anticipation of a favorable Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality.
Fully aware that they are on the losing side of history, religious conservatives are not only threatening to disregard the Supreme Court ruling. They are also actively undermining the legitimacy of the Court.
More than 200 religious right leaders have signed onto a pledge that puts the Supreme Court on notice that they will violate the law if the Court rules in favor of marriage equality. (Just how they will violate the law is unclear, since presumably none of the signers are planning to marry their same-sex partner.) The language of the pledge is suitably apocalyptic and basically argues that the signers’ interpretation of the Bible matters more than the justices’ interpretation of the law.
“Our highest respect for the rule of law requires that we not respect an unjust law that directly conflicts with higher law,” the pledge proclaims. “A decision purporting to redefine marriage flies in the face of the Constitution and is contrary to the natural created order. As people of faith we pledge obedience to our Creator when the State directly conflicts with higher law. We respectfully warn the Supreme Court not to cross this line.”
The list of signers includes many of the usual suspects: James Dobson, John Hagee, Keith Fournier, Linda Harvey, and Peter LaBarbera all scrawled their Xs on the pledge. So have more than 30,000 other rank-and-file religious conservatives. They are hardly alone in their promise to chain themselves to the bakery ovens to prevent gay wedding cakes from being made. Joining them on the pledge are two GOP presidential wannabes: Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee.
The ever-dependable Santorum said that the Supreme Court ruling is not “the final word” on marriage. “We’re not bound by what nine people say in perpetuity,” Santorum argued. Mike Huckabee went right to the top, saying that “the Supreme Court is not the supreme branch,” he added. “And for God’s sake, it’s not the Supreme Being.”
Not to be left out, another candidate from the GOP telephone directory, Ben Carson, said that the federal government is under no obligation to following the Supreme Court ruling because the president is only responsible for carrying out laws passed by Congress, not “judicial law.”
The religious right likes to cite the Dred Scott decision as justification for its threats. In 1857, the Supreme Court ruled that anyone of African descent, whether free or slave, was not a citizen under U.S. law. No points for guessing who conservative Christians have cast as Scott in the 21st century remake playing in their heads.
What is remarkable about the arguments that the right is making is not only that the Court will be wrong, but that it doesn’t have the authority that every sixth grader has been taught it has to rule on points of law. The arguments are meant to actively de-legitimize the authority of the Court, claiming that the court itself doesn’t have the final say on the Constitution. In fact, it does.
Which isn’t to say that the Court can’t change its mind. It can, if the justices change. But that’s what elections are about. That the long-term check on the Court’s actions. But when you’re playing a losing game, you don’t care about the long term. All you care about is making the winners pay as much as possible.
And if a few foundations of democracy get undermined in the process–hey, that’s just the cost of play.