WASHINGTON -- Many of the nation’s Republicans were not pleased with the Supreme Court’s sweeping decision to legalize gay marriage across the country -- especially those in states that had still blocked same-sex unions. Unhappy members of the GOP shifted in almost total uniformity to the issue of “religious liberty,” vowing to ensure no individuals are forced to violate their religious beliefs.
To be sure, not all Republicans oppose same-sex marriage. Republican Ohio Sen. Rob Portman endorsed same-sex marriage in 2013, when he revealed that his son is gay. He approved of the decision. “And as a father, I welcome today's decision,” Portman said in a statement. “As I have said before, I would have preferred for this issue to be resolved by the democratic process in the states because I think you build a more lasting consensus that way. Now the Court has reached its decision, I hope we can move past the division and polarization the issue has caused.”
The court’s decision didn’t seem to leave much wiggle room for future challenges. The decision says same-sex marriage is a fundamental right, a more sweeping decision than had they pointed to a more technical part of the law.
But for the most part, there was mostly unhappiness from Republican quarters. And they make it clear that any efforts to limit gay marriage will be rooted in an argument of protecting religious liberty. Republicans have said that no individual should be forced to perform services -- like making wedding cakes or selling flowers -- to same-sex couples for their weddings. Opponents have said those types of “religious liberty” laws are simply a way to legalize discrimination.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, whose state will be compelled to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, said he will continue to fight to ensure no one is forced to violate their religious beliefs. “The Supreme Court has abandoned its role as an impartial judicial arbiter and has become an unelected nine-member legislature,” Abbott said in a statement. “Five Justices on the Supreme Court have imposed on the entire county their personal views on an issue that the Constitution and the Court’s previous decisions reserve to the people of the States. “Despite the Supreme Court’s rulings, Texans’ fundamental right to religious liberty remains protected. No Texan is required by the Supreme Court’s decision to act contrary to his or her religious beliefs regarding marriage.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is also running for president, argued the Supreme Court violated states' rights. “The Supreme Court decision today conveniently and not surprisingly follows public opinion polls and tramples on states’ rights that were once protected by the 10th Amendment of the Constitution,” Jindal said. “Marriage between a man and a woman was established by God, and no earthly court can alter that.”
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, whose state will also have to begin issuing licenses, said the decision undermined states’ ability to make their own laws. “Throughout history, states have had the authority to regulate marriage within their borders,” Bryant said in a statement. “Today, a federal court has usurped that right to self-governance and has mandated that states must comply with federal marriage standards -- standards that are out of step with the wishes of many in the United States and that are certainly out of step with the majority of Mississippians.”
Likely presidential candidate and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whose state was already compelled to legalize gay marriage through the courts, also pointed to religious liberties as being at risk. “I call on the president and all governors to join me in reassuring millions of Americans that the government will not force them to participate in activities that violate their deeply held religious beliefs,” Walker said in response to the decision. “No one wants to live in a country where the government coerces people to act in opposition to their conscience. We will continue to fight for the freedoms of all.
Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina said she supports providing equal benefits and rights under the law. “However, this decision was also about the definition of marriage itself. I do not agree that the Court can or should redefine marriage,” Fiorina said in a statement. “Moving forward, however, all of our effort should be focused on protecting the religious liberties and freedom of conscience for those Americans that profoundly disagree with today's decision.”
In Washington, the message was much the same. "All human beings are created equal by God and thus deserve to be treated with love, dignity and respect,” House Speaker John Boehner said. “I am, however, disappointed that the Supreme Court disregarded the democratically enacted will of millions of Americans by forcing states to redefine the institution of marriage. My views are based on my upbringing and my faith. I believe that marriage is a sacred vow between one man and one woman, and I believe Americans should be able to live and work according to their beliefs."
The most passionate opposition came from those who make social conservatism a key part of their message. Former Sen. Rick Santorum is expected to try to use opposition of the decision to rally supporters for his presidential campaign. His campaign posted a photo of a bride and groom on social media encouraging people to back his campaign. “Today, five unelected justices decided to redefine the foundational unit that binds together our society without public debate or input. Now is the people's opportunity to respond because the future of the institution of marriage is too important to not have a public debate,” Santorum said in a statement. “The Court is one of three co-equal branches of government and, just as they have in cases from Dred Scott to Plessy, the Court has an imperfect track record. The stakes are too high and the issue too important to simply cede the will of the people to five unaccountable justices."
Groups that spend their time lobbying for socially conservative causes also blasted the decision. Sam Rohrer, president of the American Pastors Network, said the court violated the rights of the religious. “This landmark decision had deep biblical, historical and constitutional roots, and unfortunately, our justices chose to redefine marriage for the entire nation, ignoring other constitutional rights and opening the door to a dangerous infringement on religious liberties,” he said.
Brian S. Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, is pushing presidential candidates to sign a pledge to oppose the decision. “The U.S. Supreme Court does not have the authority to redefine something it did not create,” Brown said. “Marriage was created long before the United States and our Constitution came into existence. Our Constitution says nothing about marriage. The majority who issued today’s ruling have simply made it up out of thin air with no constitutional authority.”