Days before the election Pastor Robert Jeffress of the 10,000-member First Baptist Church of Dallas compared President Obama to Hitler, telling 600 other pastors at a luncheon that if they didn't speak out on the election, it could lead to another Holocaust. On election day Franklin Graham, railing against the president, said on CNN that "this election could be America's last call before the return of Christ." (After the election Graham said that the country was now on a "path to destruction.") It shouldn't come as a shock, then, that Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council (FRC), reacting to the reelection of the president and victories for gay marriage in four states, issued a dire warning of "a revolt, a revolution" if the Supreme Court now rules in favor of same-sex marriage, with "Americans saying, 'You know what? Enough of this!'"
The court may do just that on Nov. 30 if it lets stand the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling that California's Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. The court is also likely to take on the Defense of Marriage Act, which has been ruled unconstitutional by several federal appeals courts.
It's outrageous that Perkins would even remotely suggest violence ("I hate to use the words," he said, "but I mean a revolt, a revolution"), particularly given that FRC was itself targeted by a gunman and Perkins was the first to claim that rhetoric against his group is what caused that violence. It betrays the fear and desperation now gripping the leaders of the decades-old political movement known as the Christian right, which is faced with some vexing realities:
1. There may no longer be enough of them. Contrary to what some may have predicted, evangelical voters turned out for Mitt Romney, a Mormon, making up a greater percentage of the electorate than they did in 2004, when they helped reelect George W. Bush, and giving a larger percentage of their vote (78 percent) to Romney than they did to John McCain in 2008. It's not about loyalty. What they're facing is something much more difficult: the rise of the "nones," which I wrote about a few weeks ago. The fastest-growing religious category comprises those who have no religious affiliation, now the second largest category after Catholics, and even larger among younger voters. They overwhelmingly support same-sex marriage and abortion rights, and they largely vote Democratic. And polls show that even a majority of younger evangelicals themselves support marriage equality.
2. Attempting to fix the "demographic problem" that the media (and conservative pundits) have been buzzing about in recent days isn't going to solve anything. GOP strategists, as well as cultural conservatives like Maggie Gallagher, former president the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), talk about how they now have to reach out to Latinos solely by changing their tone on the issue of immigration, claiming that Latinos are with them on the social issues. But this is wishful thinking at best, and stereotyping at worst. In fact, Latino voters mirror the rest of the country on gay marriage or are even more supportive of it. Exit polls and pre-election polls showed that Latinos favor marriage equality even more than the larger population, and that large majorities of Latinos favor abortion rights. Similarly, targeting the African-American community has proved futile, as Maryland, with its large African-American voting population, approved marriage equality.
3. Catholics, who make up the largest religious group in the country, can no longer be relied upon in any big way. The Vatican can talk about the sin of homosexuality until St. Peter rolls over in his tomb, but a majority of Catholics in the U.S. helped reelect Barack Obama, and in polls a majority support marriage equality. Prominent conservative Catholic leader Deal Hudson even recently admitted that gay marriage "doesn't raise the temperature of the bulk of the Catholic Mass-going voters" any longer, and that "attitudes about homosexuals have changed so much over the last several years."
4. Single women overwhelmingly voted for President Obama and Democrats, and men and women are remaining single much longer than they did even 10 years ago. Barely half of American adults today are married, a record low. Comments by Senate candidates about rape and abortion -- elucidating positions on abortion that are mirrored by that of Paul Ryan -- served to wake up many people to the reality of what the Christian right's agenda is all about when it comes to women's bodies and their relationships to men, and that's particularly salient for single women.
5. Nine states now have marriage equality. According to Freedom to Marry, nearly 17 percent of the U.S. population lives in states that allow gays and lesbians to legally marry or that honor out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples. If the Supreme Court allows the Prop 8 decision to stand in California, that number will jump to well over 25 percent. Nearly 39 percent of the U.S. population lives in states with either full marriage equality or some sort of broad legal recognition of same-sex relationships, such as civil unions or domestic partnerships. As Joe Sudbay demonstrated in a smart post last week, the trend lines are going in the wrong direction on this issue for the Christian right. The GOP sees this and will be forced to either cleave off NOM, FRC and others or see public support for the party continue to erode.
I'm not suggesting that the Christian right is dead or going away anytime soon. While barely over 50 percent of Americans support marriage equality in most national polls, there obviously is a large minority that is opposed to it. And in some states, like North Carolina, which passed a ban on gay marriage just this past May with 64 percent of the vote, a large majority of the population is in line with the religious right's agenda. The hate we've seen spewed into the political discourse this year was bone-chilling and among the worst we've seen, with preachers speaking out against gay marriage by calling for gays to be rounded up or killed by the government, but it's going to get uglier and nastier, and the battles only more intense. When they start talking about "revolution" and "revolt," we all had better pay attention. The last thing we should be doing is sitting around thinking we've won.
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