A prominent Religious Right figure recently used church-state separation as an excuse to prohibit same-sex marriage, which can mean only one thing: Fundamentalists have run out of ideas to halt marriage equality.
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), a Religious Right darling and failed presidential candidate, now runs a film company called EchoLight Studios. Santorum’s outfit partnered with the Family Research Council (FRC) on a “documentary” that is intended to be shown at churches as part of FRC’s “Stand for Marriage Sunday” this weekend.
This event is the marriage version of “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” in that it asks pastors and churches nationwide to hold rallies against marriage equality. The scheme is timed ahead of the marriage equality case that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court next week.
As for the movie, it’s narrated by FRC President Tony Perkins and features appearances from the likes of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee as well as Santorum. FRC posted a six-minute trailer, and toward the end Santorum argues that the constitutional principle of church-state separation means government cannot legalize same-sex marriage.
“It’s talking about wall of separation, so the state could not tell people of faith how to live their lives,” he said.
The irony here is almost too much to bear. When Santorum tried and failed to gain the GOP presidential nomination in 2012, he said the idea of church-state separation made him physically ill. Santorum infamously said he “almost threw up” when he read John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech in which the future president assured Americans that as a Catholic chief executive he would not be taking orders from the pope.
Santorum has also claimed, falsely, that the idea of church-state separation originated with the Soviet Constitution. In reality, Roger Williams was talking about church-state separation in 1644. More than 100 years later, key founders like James Madison and Thomas Jefferson championed the idea. Madison, who is widely considered to be the “father of the Constitution,” was a primary drafter of the First Amendment. Williams, Jefferson and Madison were clearly not communists. Madison died in 1836. The first Soviet Constitution was ratified in 1918. It’s not hard to figure out that Madison had nothing to do with it.
Beyond the irony, Santorum’s explanation of separation isn’t even accurate. Marriage equality is not an example of the government telling people of faith how to live. Not a single clergy member can be forced to perform a ceremony for anyone he or she does not want to marry. The Constitution protects that right of conscience.
Government clerks are another matter. They will have to issue licenses to anyone who can legally marry. If an individual clerk has a problem with that, he or she can practice their faith as they wish – but they will also need to look for a new job.
Frankly, it’s rare for a fundamentalist like Santorum to even admit that church-state separation is part of the U.S. Constitution. Most of the Religious Right has spent decades denying its existence.
So, for the Religious Right to attempt to use a concept that it clearly despises/denies, it shows how truly desperate it is to stop marriage equality and that it is completely out of ideas (none of which were very good anyway). It also shows that there is almost nothing fundamentalists won’t try if they think it will help them achieve their goals.
As for Santorum, he is once again being talked about as a potential GOP presidential candidate for 2016. He has not yet declared, but recently he’s been trying to fire up his base with inflammatory comments about same-sex marriage.
Here’s a piece of free advice, Rick: America has a lot of problems right now. “Culture war” issues aren’t going to fix the economy or stop terrorism. If you want to be taken seriously, try focusing on something besides marriage for once.