Why Does The Religious Right Even Care About Gay Marriage?

As the predictable conservative caterwauling has risen in the wake of the Supreme Court’s historic decision on marriage equality, it’s increasingly difficult to understand just why the religious right cares so much about it.

Imagine for a moment that you believe that an angry God is in charge of the entire Universe and everything in it. Let’s imagine that you believe that same God despises gay people, gay sex, gay marriage or some combination of the above. Let’s also imagine that you believe there is an afterlife in which God’s chosen faithful will be called up into heaven, while those who break His prescriptions will spend eternity in a lake of fire.

Let’s finally imagine that your sacred text prophesizes that things will get much worse for the faithful before they get better, that the world will be consumed in sin under the leadership of an agent of Evil, and that your God will return in the end to dispense final justice.

Frankly, those beliefs sound utterly crazy to me. But I acknowledge that around half of all otherwise normal and sane Americans believe in some version of this worldview.

What seems incomprehensible is how one gets from that worldview to spending endless hours marching and advocating against the rights of gay people. The abortion issue is somewhat more understandable: if you believe that a fetus has an immortal soul from the moment of conception, it follows inescapably that abortion constitutes a murderous holocaust. Again, it seems patently crazy to believe that a blastocyst is endowed with some sort of spiritual magic that places it on the same moral level as a human child, particularly given that God himself apparently conducts millions of spontaneous abortions–but at least it follows logically that if you believe that to be true, then it’s worth devoting your life to stopping what you perceive to be a massacre of Biblical proportions.

Gay marriage is a stranger hill to die on for a bigoted theist. Consider this odd argument in the Washington Post by Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention:

The Court now has disregarded thousands of years of definition of the most foundational unit of society, and the cultural changes here will be broad and deep. So how should the church respond?

First of all, the church should not panic. The Supreme Court can do many things, but the Supreme Court cannot get Jesus back in that tomb. Jesus of Nazareth is still alive. He is still calling the universe toward his kingdom.

OK, so if that’s the case, why worry? An array of obviously specious slippery slope arguments notwithstanding, even under the Christianist worldview marriage equality hurts no one but the supposed sinners in question, who will either repent and be saved or not–but their souls are subject to their own God-given free will. It’s not as if LGBT people haven’t heard the “good news” from evangelicals before: what they do with the “information” is their business, and their potential salvation is entirely in their own hands.

Some of the more unhinged on the religious right believe that God is actively protecting the United States because of America’s religiosity, and that God’s grace will be removed by cultural coarsening. But again, so what? The United States is not Jerusalem. Its existence is obviously not part of any scripture or prophecy. In the supposed end times, the entire world is supposed to come under the spell of the Anti-Christ, which means that the U.S. will either cease to exist or fall under Satan’s dominion. In either case, the removal of divine protection isn’t much to be feared, as it seemingly must happen sooner or later. And on an individual level, death itself is simply a doorway to heaven for the righteous in any case, and every moment alive on earth is a test that could land someone in an eternity of hell for a moment’s weakness.

So it’s understandable why a radical theist might personally oppose gay marriage, but why engage in the battle politically? In fact, why engage in politics at all unless large numbers of innocent souls are at risk? Why not render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and concentrate on one’s own salvation?

Even under a radical theist’s worldview, none of the right’s grandiose outrage makes any sense. Particularly when viewed alongside its silence on other proscriptions in their sacred text against usury, divorce, hypocrisy, selfishness and a host of other sins about which its adherents are largely silent.

Unless, of course, the outrage is simply all about personal bigotry, and religion just provides the easiest and most socially acceptable veneer for exercising that bigotry. Which is really what it’s all about.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.