By Gene Lyons, NEA Columnist
One entertaining aspect of recent dramatic Supreme Court rulings was learning that the court's high-minded intellectuals can be just as thin-skinned and spiteful as everybody else. Apparently, Justice Antonin Scalia was a law school Whiz Kid about 50 years and 50,000 cocktails ago, and finds it hard to accept that lesser minds are not obliged to agree with him.
For his part, Chief Justice John Roberts turned political prognosticator in his dissent to Obergefell v. Hodges, the decision legitimizing gay marriage. "Stealing this issue from the people," he wrote, "will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept."
Granted, if all you had to go by was the sky-is-falling rhetoric of Republican presidential candidates and their theological allies, you might think Roberts had a point. But he doesn't, partly because the Supreme Court ruling won't bring about dramatic social change at all. It merely affirms social changes that have already happened.
But hold that thought, because political handicappers at the New York Times argue that same-sex unions could be the best thing that ever happened to the GOP. Not because millions of outraged religious conservatives will stampede to the ballot boxes, but because ... Well, here's the headline: "As Left Wins Culture Battles, GOP Gains Opportunity to Pivot for 2016."
Former Bush speechwriter David Frum believes that the gay marriage fight is over. "Every once in a while," he told reporter Jonathan Martin, "we bring down the curtain on the politics of a prior era. The stage is now cleared for the next generation of issues. And Republicans can say, 'Whether you're gay, black or a recent migrant to our country, we are going to welcome you as a fully cherished member of our coalition.'"
Sure, Republicans could say that. If Republicans were in the habit of dealing with reality, that is. Frum, a Canadian Jew who became a U.S. citizen in 2007, may be forgiven a bit of wishful thinking. Ever since getting pushed out of the American Enterprise Institute for saying Republicans were foolish not to negotiate Obamacare with the White House, he's been trying to persuade Republicans to act more like British Tories.
But that's not how today's GOP rolls. On the party's evangelical right, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was breathing smoke and fire. A Baptist preacher, Huckabee indulged in a bit of ecclesiastical wordplay, denying that the Supreme Court could do "something only the Supreme Being can do -- redefine marriage." He denounced the ruling as a "blow to religious liberty, which is the heart of the First Amendment," and vowed to defy it.
In this, Huckabee echoed Rev. Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, who even before the Supreme Court ruling had vowed that, "as a minister of the Gospel, I will not officiate over any same-sex unions or same-sex marriage ceremonies. I completely refuse."
Isn't that brave of him?
However, do you really suppose it's possible that Floyd, Huckabee and the rest of the hyperventilating GOP candidates fail to understand that all churches have an absolute First Amendment right to their own beliefs and practices? They're bravely refusing to perform ceremonies that nothing in this nor any imaginable Supreme Court decision would require of them.
If your church refuses to sanctify same-sex marriages (as mine certainly does), that's its unquestioned right. For that matter, the Catholic Church also refuses to marry previously divorced couples, or even admit them to communion -- an absurdity to me, but not a political issue.
Nothing in the Supreme Court ruling changes those things. It's about marriage as a secular legal institution: two Americans entering into a contract with each other. Period.
That's why Bloomberg View's Jonathan Bernstein is right and Justice Roberts is wrong about same-sex marriage causing long-lasting social resentment. Marriage, he writes, is "a done deal," and the issue will soon be relegated to "history books alongside questions of whether women should vote or alcohol should be prohibited."
Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 decision invalidating miscegenation laws, was accepted almost immediately. Bernstein points out that in states such as Massachusetts and Iowa, where same-sex unions have been legal for years, they're no longer controversial.
Because it's really none of your business, is it, who loves whom? And it has zero effect on you personally. So grow up and get over it.
In time, as Bernstein says, most people will.
Shorter term, however, millions of aggrieved GOP voters appear to have gotten the First Amendment upside-down. They won't easily be dissuaded. Feeling besieged by the mainstream culture, they're encouraged by the Huckabees, Cruzes and Santorums of the world to believe that they're being persecuted because they can't make everybody else march to their drumbeat.
The Republicans' problem is that to most Americans, that's the antithesis of religious liberty, and a surefire political loser.