Discrimination in Social Services

Six Years Later, We Can Learn Some Lessons From The Fight Over Marriage Equality

  Rob Boston

The Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that had the effect of legalizing marriage equality nationwide is now almost six years old. Christian nationalists were certain that this decision would spark massive resistance and other things, none of which happened. In fact, the American people have accepted marriage equality.

How did this happen? Writing in The Washington Post recently, journalist Sasha Isenberg posits that, despite the claims of Christian nationalists, marriage equality didn’t threaten anyone’s rights – and Americans could see that.

To be sure, Christian nationalists tried to make the argument that marriage equality was a threat, but it was unpersuasive. They made vague claims that somehow allowing men and women to marry same-sex partners would harm children. Courts didn’t buy it.

Christian nationalists also asserted that members of the clergy would be compelled to preside at same-sex ceremonies, a ridiculous claim that the American people had no trouble seeing right through. It simply hasn’t happened, and it can’t – not as long as we have the First Amendment.

Isenberg notes that once marriage equality gained a foothold in Massachusetts in 2004 after a state court ruling, people quickly saw that the “sky is falling” claims of Christian nationalists never materialized. As Isenberg writes, “even the most cynical observers of events in Massachusetts and the states that followed its lead could not point to any societal decay that gay marriage brought.”

Six years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, marriage equality is widely accepted and has faded into the background. A few Christian nationalist groups are still making noise about it, but most Americans have moved on.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that Christian nationalists have learned there’s power in portraying themselves as victims. As Isenberg notes, a new flock of cases are anchored in religious freedom claims. A Colorado baker who refused to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples got a sympathetic hearing at the high court, and the conservative bloc of justices may soon rule that officials in Philadelphia can’t stop contracting with a Catholic foster care agency even though it won’t work with LGBTQ people, a violation of its contract with the city.

During the fight over marriage equality, the stories of same-sex couples who were denied the legal right to love and care for one another tugged at Americans’ hearts and challenged their consciences.

Our job today – which we’ll be able to do thanks to your support – is to lift up the experiences of people who suffer real harm because of religion-based discrimination so that Americans understand what’s at stake. Perhaps then, they won’t swallow Christian nationalists’ misguided claims of victimization and put the sympathy where it belongs: with the people who, because of religious bias, have been denied services in secular businesses and tax-funded agencies.


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The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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