Dear Family Research Council, In the recent broadcast “Election 2012: Aftermath & Aftershocks,” Family Research Council president Tony Perkins and senior vice president Tom McClusky discussed the rising number of states that have recognized marriage equality. During the discussion McClusky referred to this recognition of marriage equality as a legal right by reaffirming the FRC’s opposition to same & saying “I think…for a lot of things over the next four years, civil disobedience is going to come into play.”
To paraphrase a line from The Princess Bride, “civil disobedience” does not mean what you think it means.
I grew up in the South during the cusp of the civil rights era. I’m old enough to remember segregated schools, hospitals, buses, restrooms, lunch counters, and water fountains. I remember watching on TV as protestors in Selma, Alabama used civil disobedience to defy local authorities who denied them basic human rights and dignities.
See, civil disobedience only works against a concrete act, it does not work against an idea. To take a very specific, very famous example, African-Americans were denied the right to sit and be served at lunch counters where white folks ate.
They fought this discrimination by sitting at the counters and refusing to move if they were not served. They endured taunting and humiliation and assault and arrest in order to force a change in the way they were treated.
But they could get changes in the law that authorized such discrimination so that no matter how much they might be hated or despised in the hearts and minds of some folks, they could not be discriminated against in public.
As Martin Luther King Jr. so famously observed: “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important.”
So basically you're saying that it’s discrimination to prevent the Family Research Council from discriminating against other people, and that you may possibly resort to civil disobedience in order to continue doing so.
Well, good luck with that. The civil rights activists of the late 50s and early 60s were willing to endure clubs, dogs, and fire hoses to obtain civil rights. And as entertaining as the spectacle of your group being hosed down by gay police officers may be, I just don’t see it happening.
And in this case what is being disobeyed is a requirement that all people be treated equally under law.
I mean, how do you plan to do that? Will ministers refuse to marry same sex couples?
Well, oops, wait, that’s legal for them to do: The state has the sole power to recognize and grant marriage licenses, not the churches, but the churches can observe their own internal moral and religious codes for weddings among those of their faith. (For example, the Roman Catholic church may refuse to marry a couple if one or both is divorced; both persons have to be members in good standing in their stake in order to be married in a Mormon tabernacle; etc.)
So you’re still free to not participate in any wedding ceremony that violates your religious conscience.
The area outside the church’s authority -- the basic legal and civil rights that marriage equality afford -- is where I’m having a difficult time imagining how your planned civil disobedience would work.
For example, let’s say there was a marriage license clerk who genuinely, sincerely, truly believed it was a sin for people of two different ethnicities to marry. Regardless of the clerk’s personal belief, their job requires them to issue marriage licenses to all who are legally entitled to marry; if the clerk refuses to issue those licenses to everyone legally entitled to one, the clerk would either lose their job or be transferred to a different department.
Or let’s say there’s a nurse on duty at a hospital who believes same sex marriage is immoral. If that nurse won't let a legal spouse visit their ailing partner because in the nurse’s eyes they aren’t really married, that nurse and the hospital would then be open to a discrimination lawsuit.
Now, nothing in the law requires our hypothetical clerk and nurse to change their attitude or belief; they’re free to go right on believing interracial and / or same sex marriages are invalid to their heart’s content.
But they are prevented by law from denying others their legal rights just because said clerk and nurse disagree with them.
If they really, truly, deeply oppose such laws, they will seek employment in venues where they won’t be required to honor marriage equality. For your call to civil disobedience to marriage equality to work would require someone seeking out such employment just for the opportunity to discriminate against others.
That’s a foolish, pointless endeavor, wouldn’t you agree?