Clerk’s gay marriage protest divides the Republican field – By Jesse Byrnes September 02, 2015, 04:38 pm


Republican presidential candidates are split on whether a Kentucky county clerk should be forced to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The case of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who has cited religious objections in refusing to issue the licenses, has pushed gay marriage toward the center of political debate at a time when the Republican Party is grappling with its stance on the issue.

The clerk’s crusade has become the first major legal flare-up over gay marriage since the Supreme Court’s decision in late June that legalized gay marriage nationwide.

Most of the Republican presidential candidates denounced the high court’s ruling, calling it judicial overreach that threatens the religious liberty of faith-based organizations and business owners.

Democrats mostly cheered the court while dismissing the warnings about religious freedom as overblown.

Rowan is scheduled to appear in court Thursday morning after defying a judge’s order to issue the licenses, a ruling that the Supreme Court itself refused to block.

With attention on the case growing, presidential contenders are beginning to stake out their positions on whether Rowan should be compelled to issue the licenses.

Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister, on Wednesday gave Rowan a full-throated endorsement after speaking to her on the phone.

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Conservatives regroup after gay marriage defeat – By ADAM B. LERNER 7/12/15 7:53 AM EDT


Participants in the March For Marriage protest outside the US Supreme Court on April 25, 2015, in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June.       AFP PHOTO/PAUL J. RICHARDS        (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court’s recent same-sex marriage ruling left many conservative Christians steamed, with some calling for new constitutional amendments and others urging resistance against America’s new legal reality.

But many leaders on the religious right accepted defeat quietly, embraced their new underdog status, and began coalescing around an invigorated crusade for “religious liberty,” with a strategy modeled on the very social movement that just beat them in court: gay-marriage advocates.

“Same-sex marriage has been the looming cultural issue of the moment,” said Phillip Bethancourt, executive vice president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, an offshoot of the right-leaning Southern Baptist Convention. “Religious liberty issues are the next horizon.”

The religious right rose to prominence in American politics in the 1980s, under the banner of Jerry Falwell’s now-defunct “Moral Majority.” But now, Bethancourt said, conservative Christians have become a “moral minority” living in a “post-Bible belt” America that discriminates against them.

Justice Samuel Alito employed similar rhetoric in his same-sex marriage dissent, warning that Justice Anthony Kennedy’s sweeping decision will be “used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.” Justice Clarence Thomas agreed, writing in his own dissent that the ruling could have “potentially ruinous consequences for religious liberty.”

“It seems like the oppressor is now taking on the mentality of the oppressed,” said Brandan Robertson, a self-described evangelical who supports same-sex marriage.

A number of Republican presidential candidates have echoed those arguments following the high court’s decision.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal told Fox News that “already Christian businesses are facing discrimination if they don’t want to participate in wedding ceremonies that violate their sincerely held beliefs.” Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee similarly warned in a USA Today op-ed of businesses “economically terrorized” for their beliefs and the ruling’s coming “collision with the First Amendment guarantee of religious liberty.”

Similar worries about the plight of religious dissenters surfaced sporadically before the court’s decision — mostly in states with gay marriage and LGBT anti-discrimination laws or occasionally on a national scale, in reference to debates over abortion and contraception. But now, longtime evangelical leader Gary Bauer said, there’s widespread consensus among conservatives that “the next battlefield is protecting religious liberty,” with a particular emphasis on Americans whose religious beliefs prevent them from partaking in same-sex marriage ceremonies.

In the wake of the court’s decision, the religious right has already begun pushing new religious freedom laws and executive orders in state governments specifically targeted at preventing state agencies from penalizing businesses and individuals who refuse to participate in gay weddings.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback became the first Republican politician to take action, issuing an executive order Tuesday that forbids the state government from penalizing any religious leader or organization that refuses to participate in a same-sex marriage. In a statement accompanying the order, he cited a need to “protect against any infringement” of the “right to worship according to ‘dictates of conscience’.”

Unlike Indiana or Arkansas’ controversial religious freedom bills, which drew fire nationally for broad language that potentially extended to lawsuits between private individuals and businesses, Brownback’s order specifically dealt with government penalties for those who refuse to recognize gay-wedding ceremonies. The order made direct reference to Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision, as an “imposition” that “poses potential infringements on the civil right of religious liberty.”

And in Congress, more than 100 members have followed suit by cosponsoring the First Amendment Defense Act, which would prevent the federal government from revoking the tax-exempt status of religious organizations that do not recognize same-sex marriages. The bill speaks to fears fueled by President Obama’s own solicitor general, Donald Verrilli, who said during Obergefell’s oral arguments that non-cooperative religious organizations’ tax-exempt status is “certainly going to be an issue” for the court in the future.

A number of religious conservatives told POLITICO that the key to winning these upcoming legislative and legal battles will be employing tactics refined by the same-sex marriage movement that recently defeated them.

“[LGBT activists] did a good job of making the stories of peoples’ lives front and center and saying, ‘Look at how these people are affected,’” said Travis Weber of the Family Research Council. Groups like Freedom to Marry and the Human Rights Campaign used social media to promote popular gay and lesbian celebrities’ viewpoints and encouraged Americans to look to their LGBT neighbors asking for acceptance.

Conservatives should follow suit, Weber said, by highlighting the stories of religious individuals he said had been “demonized,” pointing to businesses like Sweet Cakes by Melissa, an Oregon bakery that was fined $135,000 for refusing to bake a wedding wake for a lesbian couple, or the Odgaard family, who shut down their Iowa bistro after a legal battle over their refusal to host a same-sex wedding. These cases, he believes, can serve as the same sort of compelling hook that Justice Kennedy used by putting James Obergefell’s heartfelt story of losing his husband at the beginning of his decision.

Another cue conservative Christians are taking from their Obergefell defeat: Don’t focus too heavily on gay and lesbian peoples’ sex lives. Instead, focus on religious liberty issues that have nothing to do with the bedroom.

“When sexual liberty and religious liberty are at odds with each other, in our culture, oftentimes sexual liberty prevails,” Bethancourt said, noting that the same-sex marriage movement was ultimately successful in highlighting families seeking parental rights and access to loved ones in the hospital.

Bethancourt’s group wrote an amicus brief for the Supreme Court on behalf of a young Muslim woman who was denied a job at Abercrombie and Fitch on the presumption that she would not take off her head scarf during work. The case, he noted, was a clear-cut issue of religious liberty without an alienating sexual component, and it also allowed his movement to partner with other religious groups so that religious liberty arguments were no longer tethered to a particular denomination.

“People of faith have to stand together, they have to look out for each other,” Bethancourt said.

And there’s another lesson for religious conservatives: Build a diverse coalition. Bethancourt noted that progressive groups, from the NAACP to the ACLU, successfully expanded the base of support for marriage equality outside of traditional LGBT advocates.

But no matter how the Christian right evangelizes and markets itself, many same-sex marriage advocates see it as nothing more than bigotry in sheep’s clothing.

The religious right has employed the “language of apocalyptic impending doom” because “religious leaders realize they’re losing their base,” said Robertson, who characterized the right’s narrative as: “We’ve lost our position of influence in our country, we’re now a minority, and [thus] persecution is coming.”

“LGBT activists [were] saying, ‘Treat us the same as everyone else’ for a long period of time, and conservative Christians are [now] saying, ‘What we want is a carve out so we are exempt from parts of civil law,’” said Clyde Wilcox, a professor at Georgetown University who wrote “Onward Christian Soldiers: The Christian Right in American Politics.”

Whether the Christian right succeeds in securing new protections depends largely on how much the American public buys into their stories of persecution, said Michael Moreland, a former White House aide to George W. Bush.

“Each side is trying to lay claim to the language of discrimination,” which he said is “a very powerful tool” in American politics because it’s “deeply shaped by the civil rights movement.”

“Everyone’s kind of waiting now to see how this plays out. It could play out as race discrimination did, where understandably you had a national consensus come together very quickly about the intolerability of racial segregation,” he said. “Or it could end up being like abortion, where you have a constitutional right but a lot of exemptions,” earned through legal and political fights by a still formidable pro-life movement.

“A very narrowly crafted religious protections argument can be very successful,” Wilcox said, but overreach like in Indiana will push the public away. “Conservatives need to watch out.”

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Right sees leftward tilt in Roberts Supreme Court era – By Peter Schroeder and Lydia Wheeler – 06/27/15 06:00 AM EDT


Getty Images

Supreme Court rulings affirming ObamaCare and gay marriage are unnerving the right, which sees a leftward tilt in the Chief Justice John Roberts era.

To be sure, the court has issued right-leaning rulings since Roberts was confirmed in 2005, perhaps most notably by opening up campaign coffers to private organizations in Citizens United v. FEC, and striking down a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

But in a series of other rulings, the court has issued decisions cheered by the left that have disappointed conservatives and soured them on Roberts.

“People had felt that the Roberts court might be one of the most conservative courts in recent history,” said Paul Rothstein, a Georgetown Law professor. “That expectation and belief has been a little bit beyond the mark.”

The court’s early direction under Roberts appeared in line with expectations.

In 2010, a New York Times analysis of the first five years of the Roberts Court found it to be one of the most conservative in decades, issuing conservative opinions 58 percent of the time.

Some of the recent decisions have highlighted a disturbing trend for conservatives.

While the court’s four liberal justices have ruled in unison on gay marriage, ObamaCare, discrimination in housing and other issues, conservatives on the court have been split.

While Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito have generally aligned on the right, Roberts wrote both ObamaCare decisions and Kennedy has been a frequent swing voter.

Even Thomas broke with the other four conservatives last week in a ruling that said Texas could block people from putting the Confederate flag on license plates.

Given that Kennedy and Roberts were nominated to the court by GOP presidents, Ronald Reagan in the case of the former and George W. Bush in the latter, their surprise decisions have left a sour taste.

“They lied to the presidents who appointed them. Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind what Ronald Reagan wanted when he picked Anthony Kennedy?” said Matt Schlapp, president of the American Conservative Union. “I don’t trust the court. I don’t trust John Roberts to do the right thing. I definitely don’t trust Anthony Kennedy to do the right thing.”

Some legal experts say the court only appears more liberal because the big cases would have never come before the court if it weren’t so conservative.

“The only reason they heard the Obamacare case is because we have some really deeply conservative justices who thought this could be used as mechanism to strike it down,” said Kent Greenfield, a law professor and Dean’s Research Scholar at Boston College. “With same-sex marriage, they’ve been avoiding taking the case.”

But a ruling this week on fair housing shows it is not just the high-profile political cases where a conservative justice can surprise.

 

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Gay Marriage Meets Sympathy, Skepticism at Supreme Court – By TIERNEY SNEED April 28, 2015 | 4:58 p.m. EDT


Attorneys for both sides get tough questions in a case that could make same-sex marriage a constitutional right.

Karen Young, from Washington, DC, argues with an opponent of same-sex marriage near the Supreme Court, on April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC.

After decades of activism and votes in statehouses and polling places around the country, a decision about whether gay marriage will become legal in the United States appeared on Tuesday to fall to one man.

Justice Anthony Kennedy seemed at times sympathetic to both the desire of gays and lesbians to marry and to opponents who suggested such a ruling would amount to federal government overreach during arguments before the Supreme Court. The case, which analysts have long speculated would lead to the court’s sanctioning of gay marriage nationwide, was closely divided between the court’s liberal justices – who said the definition of marriage should be extended to same-sex couples – and its conservative wing, which questioned whether such a ruling would fundamentally change the institution.

Kennedy, considered the swing vote on the issue, didn’t seem certain of a legal path that would grant gay couples the constitutional right to wed, grilling both those challenging and defending state prohibitions on gay marriage while giving little indication about which argument he will ultimately side with.

“This definition has been with us for millennia,” Kennedy said. “And it’s very difficult for the court to say, ‘Oh, well, we know better.’”

[READ: The Next LGBT Rights Battle]

Attorneys before the court argued two questions in Obergefell v. Hodges, a landmark case that could finally cement the legal landscape surrounding same-sex marriage after the court previously shied away from doing so: whether state bans against gay marriage are unconstitutional and if states banning gay marriage should be required to recognize gay marriages granted by other states.

Attorneys on both sides of the second question – Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, representing gay married couples seeking out-of-state recognition, and Tennessee Associate Solicitor General Joseph Whalen, arguing that Tennessee has the right not to recognize such marriages – struggled to answer the justices’ questions in their portion of the arguments, making it difficult to see an outcome in which the court would allow same-sex marriage to be legal and recognized in some states but not all. Kennedy was notably silent for most of this portion of the arguments.

That sharpened the focus even more on the ultimate, underlying question that had been brought to the Supreme Court: Is marriage a constitutional right that should apply to gays and lesbians the way it applies to heterosexual couples?

Arguing yes was Mary Bonauto, who helped win a monumental gay marriage case in Massachusetts over a decade ago. She said, despite Kennedy’s concerns, the place of same-sex couples in society had been debated for decades.

“It has been exhaustively aired, and the bottom line is that gay and lesbian families live in communities as neighbors throughout this whole country,” she said.

Defending the right of states to ban same-sex marriage was John Bursch, Michigan’s former solicitor general, who said the case was not about not how states define marriage but about who gets to define it, and that such a change should be left to the states’ political processes.

A major point of contention in his arguments was what the state’s interest would be in excluding gay people from marriage, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the other liberals on the court prodding Bursch on his suggestion that allowing gay couples to marry would detract from heterosexual marriages.

Bursch argued that allowing gay couples to wed would shift the state’s interest in marriage away from child-rearing, suggesting that gay marriage is primarily about an emotional attachment and prompting Kennedy to jump in.

“That assumes that same­-sex couples could not have the more noble purpose” of raising children, the justice said.

The court’s conservative wing was as tough on Bonauto’s arguments as liberals were on Bursch’s.

“Suppose we rule in your favor in this case and then after that, a group consisting of two men and two women apply for a marriage license. Would there be any ground for denying them a license?” Justice Samuel Alito aid.

The conservatives also followed up on Kennedy’s argument that same-sex marriage is a relatively recent development. But Ginsburg helped Bonauto out by suggesting that the ideas surrounding heterosexual marriage had shifted, with men no longer being seen as holding the “dominant” role and women as the “subordinate.”

Bonauto pushed hardest against the idea that states should take a “wait and see” approach and observe the policy ramifications of same-sex marriage being granted in some states before legalizing it in others; she argued that states used similar logic to defend bans on interracial marriage, which the Supreme Court struck down in 1967.

[DATA MINE: Americans’ Changing Position on Gay Marriage in 2 Charts]

While some gay rights activists believed Chief Justice John Roberts’ vote may have been up for grabs, Roberts dealt a potential blow to those hopes by suggesting he saw a difference between this case and a previous Supreme Court case that struck down state anti-sodomy laws. That case, he said, was about government intrusion, while the current one before the court was about what a state must approve.

Tuesday’s landmark case came after the court in recent years passed on several obvious opportunities to explicitly weigh in on the issue, even forcing recognition of gay marriage in some states through its inaction. The reluctance led many observers to think the court was content to let gay marriage advance.

But along with the justices’ ruling, what remains to be seen are the scope and legal rationale of the majority opinion. A broad decision for either side could have an impact on other gay rights battles, though any discussion Tuesday about the breadth of a potential ruling was brief.

Kennedy questioned U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, arguing in support of the plaintiffs, why the U.S. government’s brief in the case focused on an equal protection argument – meaning that state marriage bans discriminate against gays and lesbians on the basis of sexual orientation. In general, the justices seemed more amenable to an argument resting on the 14th Amendment’s due process clause, which would imply that marriage is a fundamental right afforded to everyone, gay or straight.

In the pause before Verrilli’s allotted time, a protester began shouting from the back of the courtroom that gay marriage was an “abomination” and supporters would “burn in hell.” With the outburst coming after a half an hour of intense legal wrangling, Justice Antonin Scalia called the disruption “refreshing, actually.”

A decision in the case is expected in late June.

Love and the law – BY R.G. AND THE DATA TEAM Apr 28th 2015, 13:46


ON April 28th America’s Supreme Court begins hearing arguments about gay marriage. At issue is whether the minority of states that still ban it should be allowed to do so. Traditionalists insist that marriage is a matter for elected state lawmakers to regulate. Not so, say proponents of same-sex marriage: the constitution requires the states to give all people within their jurisdiction “the equal protection of the laws”, and that means they can’t limit wedlock to heterosexuals.

Public opinion has shifted faster than a cheetah with its tail on fire. In 2004, when the first gay marriages were recognised in Massachusetts, no state had a majority in favour of such unions. Today most do. And the least gay-friendly state, Alabama, is about where today’s most gay-friendly state, Vermont, was a decade ago.

 

In Iowa, GOP field stresses opposition to same-sex marriage – By JAMES HOHMANN 4/26/15 1:02 AM EDT


WAUKEE, IA - APRIL 25:  Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee speaks to guests gathered at the Point of Grace Church for the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition 2015 Spring Kickoff on April 25, 2015 in Waukee, Iowa. The Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, a conservative Christian organization, hosted 9 potential contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nominations at the event.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee speaks to guests gathered at the Point of Grace Church for the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition 2015 Spring Kickoff. | Getty 

WAUKEE, Iowa—Leading Republican presidential candidates came to Iowa Saturday to assure social conservatives that they still oppose gay marriage, despite shifting public attitudes and the recent backlash against religious liberty laws.

Speaking to some 1,000 evangelicals at the Point of Grace Church in this suburb of Des Moines, a procession of presidential candidates expressed support for a constitutional amendment that would allow states to re-ban gay marriage if the Supreme Court recognizes a right to such unions.

Many GOP elites, in the donor and operative class, want to move beyond gay marriage. They think it’s a losing issue for the party in the long-term and makes outreach to younger voters more difficult. But social conservatives are the most influential constituency in the caucuses, which kick off the nominating process.

The nuanced answers from many Republican candidates in recent months took a backburner Saturday night, as several of the candidates tried to outdo one another on who could speak out most strongly against a right to gay marriage.

“Marriage as an institution existed before even government itself,” declared Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, kicking off the five-hour Faith & Freedom Summit, at which nine likely presidential candidates spoke. “The institution of marriage as between one man and one woman existed even before our laws existed.”

Scott Walker noted that he voted for Wisconsin’s constitutional ban and defended it through the judicial process, until the Supreme Court refused to review a lower court ruling that his state issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

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The Supreme Court’s big gay-marriage case could rock the 2016 presidential race – COLIN CAMPBELL APR. 18, 2015, 7:30 AM


The upcoming Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage could shake up the 2016 race for the White House.

AP13062717740

AP/Jeff ChiuThe City Hall rotunda is shown with rainbow colored lights in honor of Gay Pride weekend in San Francisco.

The nation’s highest court is reviewing the constitutionality of states’ gay-marriage bans and is expected to issue a ruling by June.

This means gay marriage will be making headlines throughout the summer, and that’s likely to lead to uncomfortable questions for candidates who have stumbled on the issue.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign, for example, is working to defend allegations of flip-flopping on the issue, and two of her likely opponents are already trying to gain traction by calling her out on it.

“I’m glad Secretary Clinton’s come around to the right positions on these issues,” former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) jabbed Thursday evening. “I believe that we are best as a party when we lead with our principles and not according to the polls.”

Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (D) also piled on.

“I would argue that when Democrats look at my record on all the issues, that they’re going to see that I have been very, very consistent,” he said the same day on MSNBC. “In fact, a lot more consistent than Sen. Clinton. Just today we’re learning more about her flip-flopping on marriage equality.”

O’Malley and Chafee were referring to an NPR interview Clinton gave in 2014, in which she suggested the same-sex marriage question should be dealt with on a state-by-state basis.

“For me, marriage had always been a matter left to the states,” Clinton said at the time, according to a transcript.

After the Clinton campaign told BuzzFeed on Wednesday that she wants the Supreme Court to strike down gay-marriage bans, reporters accused her of “shifting” her position. However, Clinton’s campaign later told Business Insider that her position hasn’t changed since 2013, when she came out in support of same-sex marriages.

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