This is the second in a series of articles exploring how post-legalization anti-marriage equality bills, currently working their way through state legislatures, threaten to trivialize the principle of religious freedom in America. For Part I in this series, see Sharia law: North Carolina Republicans empower magistrates to refuse to marry blacks, Jews, gays.
North Carolina Republicans' Senate Bill 2, now under consideration in the state House of Representatives, proposes to allow county magistrates to recuse themselves from performing civil marriages concerning which they have "sincerely held religious objections." While its proponents make no secret of its aim to target same-sex marriage in particular, nonetheless the bill's language explicitly accommodates "any sincerely held religious objection," i.e., to any marriage. It's a stratagem forced upon the bill's author (state Senate president pro tem Phil Berger [R]) by an abundance of case law making it clear that targeting a single, named class of persons in SB2 would render the law unconstitutional on its face. But, as I called out in my previous article, Berger's bargain with the devil thus opens the door to allowing magistrates to recuse themselves from officiating at any wedding they object to, involving gays, interracial couples, interfaith couples, divorcees, or what-have-you. With ALEC-like lockstep precision, similar 'religious objection' laws are now advancing in at least 13 states, North and South.
Supporters reject the notion, with a dismissive wave of the hand, that SB2 and its kin will unleash a torrent of indiscriminate discrimination across America. Leaving aside for the moment (if that's even possible) the question of whether claiming a religious freedom to discriminate against gays and lesbians is moral, or even merely constitutional, let's consider the larger question of where, exactly, does this end?
SB2's supporters clearly recognize that they are on mighty shaky ground, with no defense against the charge that it would protect otherwise illegal acts of racial discrimination.
Charlotte Democratic Senator Jeff Jackson, speaking in opposition to the bill, asked
“The bill doesn’t specify that a sincerely held religious objection has to be on the basis of performing a same-sex marriage, so could the objection be on the basis of performing an interracial marriage, or a marriage of people of two different faiths?” Legal staff acknowledged the bill is vague about the definition of a sincerely held religious objection.
Regarding the likelihood of SB2 giving succor to those who oppose interracial marriage, Asheville NC's Citizen Times reports
Some of the sharpest disagreements over a proposal to allow some government workers to opt out of marriages on religious grounds involve the question of whether employees could use hostility to interracial or interfaith marriages as a basis to recuse themselves. It is clear that they could, says Gregory Wallace, a law professor at Campbell University School of Law who nonetheless supports the law, saying the chances of it actually happening are remote.
Also according to the same report, Tami Fitzgerald (director of the NC Values Coalition
and formerly a lobbyist for both the Christian Action League and groups affiliated with Tony Perkins' notorious Family Research Council), believes
the interracial marriage issue is irrelevant because it won’t come up if the law is passed. "There isn’t a religion on Earth that says that interracial marriage is against their religious belief."
Can that be right? Is racism, garbed in religion, so antiquated a notion as to be a non-issue in America today? Sigh. Don't make me google this for you, Tami.
Meet Bret McAtee, pastor of North Carolina's Charlotte Christian Reformed Church (CCRC). On his blog, Iron Ink (anonymous, but pointed to by CCRC's home page as "Pastor Bret's Weekly Writings"), McAtee shares with us such uplifting Christian good news as this:
I allow that miscegenation is not always sin all the time.
Of course there is to be contact between the nations, but not supranational miscegenation or slow genocide.
Elsewhere on his blog, McAtee asks
Why should you think that God who ordains ethnic division in the OT would reverse that in the NT? Where in the NT does God say, "I changed my mind on ethnic and national people groups."
In another post he instructs
Just as there is no outright forbidding of polygamy in Scripture so there is no outright forbidding of inter-racial marriage and there is no outright forbidding of 85 year old Christian men marrying 16 year old Christian women. However, in all cases such marriages clearly are normatively not the better part of wisdom and so would be sinful to pursue.
And lest we think that Pastor Bret's animus toward a person of color sharing a white man's marriage bed must surely be divorced from whatever he feels regarding what he calls "sodomite marriage,"
McAtee refers to U.S. District Court Judge Arenda Allen - an African American - and her 2014 ruling overturning Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage thusly
This asinine stupidity drunk on Malt liquor and high on crack cocaine. This is the consequence of affirmative action.
I'm going to have to go out on a limb here and guess that our sainted Pastor Bret would lovingly counsel any member of his Charlotte flock who happened to be a county magistrate that, for the sake of his immortal soul, he must recuse himself from officiating over either
an interracial or
a "sodomite" marriage.
Granted, Pastor Bret's terrible gospel is far, far from typical of North Carolina's mostly loving people of faith. Bear in mind that it was eight North Carolina clerics - Christians and Jews alike - who brought suit against the state in General Synod of the United Church of Christ, et al. vs. Resinger et al., arguing that the state's ban on same-sex marriage infringed the plaintiffs' freedom of religion - the suit that struck down North Carolina's ban on same-sex marriage.
But neither is Pastor Bret's nightmare vision a complete anomaly, either here or elsewhere across the U.S. Witness Kentucky’s all-white Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church, which in 2011 voted to bar interracial couples from becoming members or participating in worship services, noting that the church "does not condone interracial marriage." Gulnare is affiliated with the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Inc., which, according to its then executive secretary, "has no policy either forbidding or promoting interracial marriage."
Or Texas' Appleby Baptist Church, whose leader proclaimed in 2013:
The proof of the presence of God among the Israelites was the absence of the black skinned folk of Canaan. It is obvious God is a separator, not a mixer. It is God who set the boundaries. Satan wants to eliminate color by interracial marriages. Someone will ask why do we have to see color when we look at one another? Why can’t we just see each other as people? The same reason you see a Poodle, German Shepherd, Beagle, etc. God made us different and set the bounds.
Perhaps someone should gently inform this giant of theoretical bio-theology that man, not God, made the Poodle. Similarly, where man sees 'race,' the loving God of most decent Christians sees only a beautiful diversity of children.
Or Tennessee's Happy Valley Church of Jesus Christ, whose Brother Donny Reagan in 2014 briefly became a viral internet phenomenon when a video of his sermon was leaked onto YouTube. In it, Reagan
rails against interracial marriage and mixed race children calling the marriages "not right" and wondering why we can’t leave segregation "alone." "Today we have so much fussing and stewing about this segregation of white and colored and everything. Why don’t they leave it alone? Let it be the way God made it. There is a move in the message, of blacks marrying whites, whites marrying blacks." Reagan explains "And folks think that is alright, but you know, my God still has nationalities outside the city." To the "amens" of his congregation, Brother Reagan read, "Hybreeding [hybriding], hybreeding, oh how terrible."
Or Georgia’s Chalcedon Presbyterian Church (mother church of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States), which teaches
: "Biblical counsel should be sought out and humbly received by the young people considering marriage, making it clear that Christian young adults should marry only in the Lord, and that inter-religious marriages are forbidden."
Or Alabama's Church of God's Chosen, which made headlines when its pastor, Rev. William C. Collier, organized and promoted an Annual Pastors’ Conference to which "All White Christians" were invited. According to fliers advertising the event, the three-day conference was to end with a "Sacred Christian Cross Lighting Ceremony." Rev. Collier assured reporters that his church "is not a hate group," but added that it believes "the white race is God's chosen people."
Or Missouri's Church of Israel, which proudly proclaimed in a 2014 edition of its newsletter, The Watchman:
The sin of miscegenation is irreversible. Interracial marriage is the single greatest challenge to the authority of God, Scripture, and the undeniable and empirical proof of nature. God, Scripture, and nature stand against the interracial cohabitation of the distinct races God created.
Or consider a 2012 Public Policy Polling survey
of Mississippians, in which 33% of those who identified themselves as evangelical Christians expressed the opinion that interracial marriage should be illegal.
Racism, homophobia, and religious intolerance are but three of the horsemen of our latter day Republican Apocalypse.
And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
I'm a Christian. Don't even think
about accusing me of inflaming some imaginary Liberal War On Christianity. Rather, it is North Carolina's Republican General Assembly, Republican governor Pat McCrory, and their reptilian fellow travelers, who are launching a very real war, in the unholy name of a terrible perversion of 'religious freedom' - a freedom I hold dear.
In closing, here's a short, wonderful spiritual palate cleanser to purge your soul of all the bitter gall you have diligently choked down with me so far: