After gay marriage ruling, foes form new strategies
Detroit — Even before the ink has barely dried on the decision by the nation's highest court to make same-sex marriage legal across the United States, some lawmakers across the country are pushing for new laws that would make it harder for gay and lesbian couples to wed.
Former Oakland County Prosecutor Richard Thompson, who now heads the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, predicts a religious battle is just beginning in the aftermath of Friday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex couples to marry throughout the United States.
"This fight will go on," said Thompson, who filed amicus brief on behalf of a coalition of African-American churches and their pastors. "There will be county clerks who say they will refuse to do anything that conflicts with their faith."
On Sunday, a member of the African-American pastors' group Thompson is representing called for "an act of civil disobedience" to be carried out by county clerks and judges who refuse to marry same-sex couples citing religious reasons.
"It would be better to lose your job than to lose your soul," said Minister Stacy Swimp, a Flint-area pastor and founding member of the National Coalition of Black Pastors and Christian Leaders. Swimp also encouraged pastors to join in the boycott to marry same-sex couples.
In anticipation of the court's ruling, same-sex marriage opponents have already proposed legislation at the state level to make it difficult for couples to marry.
One proposed bill in Michigan would ban government officials from conducting marriages. In Texas, lawmakers tried to block clerks from issuing licenses. In a number of states, legislation has been proposed that supporters say would protect a church leader's rights to practice their "religious freedom," and choose not to officiate at the marriage of two gay people or have their church used for such a ceremony.
University of Michigan constitutional law professor Richard Primus says some of the proposed bills are not constitutionally sound and would not pass muster in a courtroom.
"A law limiting the authority to marry people to religious (officiates) would be unconstitutional under the First Amendment," said Primus adding same-sex couples would have to be afforded the same opportunities to legally marry as opposite-sex couples. Blocking that opportunity would be a "direct violation" of the court's ruling.
Primus said the current challenges to the anticipated wholesale legalization of same-sex marriage is very similar to the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, the 1954 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision which struck down racial segregation in public schools. He said some school districts closed schools to avoid putting black and white students in same classrooms to achieve racial integration.
"People will look for all sorts of ways to not accept the change," said Primus, adding that eventually, as in the Brown v. Board of Education case, they will perhaps decades later.
Michigan state Rep. Todd Courser, R-Lapeer, earlier this month introduced a set of bills mandating that same-sex couples seeking to marry in Michigan can only be married by pastors and other clergy and not by government officials.
"It would take officiating out of the hands of government officials and put it back into the hands of religious officiates," Courser said about the bill.
Courser also plans to introduce another set of bills he calls "Pastors' Protection" laws that would make clergy who don't want to marry same-sex couples immune from lawsuits.
Courser says the government does not have the right to force people who might not support same-sex marriage to perform ceremonies, calling those individuals "conscientious objectors."
"These bills take our public officials on all levels out of the equation and frees them from sanctioning marriages that go against their beliefs," Courser said in a statement.
As part of the proposed legislation, House Bills 4731, 4732 and 4733, government offices would still issue marriage licenses but city, county and other government officials or employees would not be able to preside over the wedding ceremonies.
In Texas, state lawmakers have also tried to derail possible enforcement of a law allowing gay and lesbians to marry by blocking clerks at the state's 254 county offices from issuing licenses.
The centerpiece of gay marriage opponents in the Texas state house is called the "Preservation of Sovereignty and Marriage Act." The proposed law would prevent clerk's offices there from issuing tax-funded licenses for same-sex marriage ceremonies.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed legislature protecting pastors. Another measure, which passed the state Senate on Monday, would allow members of the clergy to opt out of performing same-sex marriages or from having their facilities used for same-sex weddings.
But local ministers the Revs. Roland Stringfellow and Deb Dysert said there are plenty of area clergy available to marry gay and lesbian couples.