Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore threw his state into turmoil this week when he ordered probate judges to defy a federal judge’s ruling striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage and refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Moore, who has a history of making extreme anti-gay statements, insists that the federal judge is the one who is really breaking the law since she violated divine law by ruling for marriage equality.
Moore’s call for statewide defiance of the federal judiciary’s “tyranny” stems from a belief that the Constitution was made to protect biblical commandments, so that anything that goes against his personal interpretation of the Bible is therefore in violation of the Constitution.
Moore shares that belief with a powerful ally: Michael Peroutka, a neo-Confederate activist who is also one of the most influential behind-the-scenes figures in the Religious Right’s reimagining of American law.
Peroutka, who once held a leadership position in the neo-Confederate League of the South and remained a member of the group until it hampered his run for a local office in Maryland last year, promotes this theocratic view of the law through his group the Institute on the Constitution. Speaking at an event at the Institute in 2011, Moore gushed that Peroutka would help lead America to a “glorious triumph” over the federal government’s “tyranny.”
But Peroutka is more than a friend and ideological ally to Moore: he has funded Moore’s activism for more than a decade, and in 2012 bankrolled Moore’s successful campaign for the top seat on the Alabama Supreme Court.
After Moore was removed from his original position on Alabama’s high court in 2003 for defying a federal court order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the state judicial building, Peroutka paid for the ousted judge to go on a national speaking tour to build support for his cause. He also funded a group that held rallies in support of Moore.
Over nine years, Peroutka contributed over a quarter of a million dollars to two groups founded by Moore, the Foundation for Moral Law (which is now run by Moore’s wife Kayla) and the now-defunct Coalition to Restore America.
In 2004, the far-right Constitution Party tried to recruit Moore to run for president on its ticket. When he declined, Peroutka stepped in to run in his place.
This neo-Confederate leader helped to lay the ideological groundwork for Moore’s current standoff with the federal courts, a standoff which many commentators have compared to Alabama Gov. George Wallace’s decision to defy federal law on desegregation.
Peroutka thinks states should defy and ignore federal rulings on gay rights since federal judges have “no authority” to rule in marriage cases, because marriage was already defined by God and the Constitution was designed to enforce such divine arrangements.
Peroutka said last year that such rulings would “coerce” state officials to “declare that which is sinful and immoral” to be “valid and right,” even forcing them to “participate in it.” Such “evil” decisions, according to Peroutka, must be “resisted at every level of government, even the lower levels of government, most especially the lower levels of government,” since local governments are the true “protectors against those who would force these things on us tyrannically from above.”
For example, after a federal judge struck down Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage last year, Peroutka insisted that Sen. Rand Paul move to impeach the judge who made the decision, defund the court, and press for his state to defy the ruling: “He should use every influence he has in Kentucky to have people not obey this; the Kentucky legislature, the Kentucky courts, should not obey this, this is not lawful.”
Peroutka also believes that local officials should defy their state legislatures on issues like marriage equality. After Maryland’s general assembly voted in 2012 to legalize same-sex marriage in the state, Peroutka declared that the assembly’s decision to “violate God’s laws” effectively invalidated its legal authority, since any law that contradicts divine law does “not constitute a law – even if it were enacted and signed.”
Using an argument similar to the one Moore is now making in Alabama, Peroutka said that lower-level officials could ignore not only the marriage equality law but any law passed by the state’s general assembly, since it had invalidated itself by breaking biblical decrees: “Is it possible that those who are sworn to uphold the law, such as police and sheriffs and judges and prosecutors, may soon come to the conclusion that the enactments of this body should be ignored because they are based not in law, but in lawlessness?”
For the same reasons, Peroutka believes Roe v. Wade is invalid and supports religious tests for public office, since atheists and non-Christians do not believe in the basis of constitutional law…the Bible. He also deems the teaching of evolution in schools to be “anti-American” because evolution challenges what his reading of the Bible says about the origins of humankind. “The promotion of evolution is an act of disloyalty to America,” he once declared.
In Peroutka’s view, anything that breaks the “organic law,” or biblical law, is automatically unconstitutional.
Peroutka believes that America needs to “go back to what God called marriage, not what the state has perverted the definition to be, but what God called marriage.” Since biblical law doesn’t permit same-sex marriage in his view, then civil law can’t either: “There is no way we are ever going to validate homo- or sodomite-‘unmarriage’ because God defined marriage as between a man and a woman once and forever.”
“I always go back to these two standards: What does God say and what does the Constitution say?” Peroutka explained in 2013.
He added that the United States will have a small, limited government as long as it adheres to biblical standards. But he believes that the Union’s victory in the Civil War — or as he calls it, “The War Between the States” — enabled the federal government to greatly expand its powers, thus undermining the authority of biblical law and leading to such evils as same-sex marriage.
“Ever since then, there’s been this huge black hole of centralized power that’s formed in Washington, D.C.” he said. “People sometimes talk about ‘The War Between the States’ as being about the issue of slavery. I believe that history is written by the winners, it wasn’t about that at all. What it was about was consolidating power into the hands of a few people.”
“[T]he real effect of the war and the Reconstruction after the war was to take the very foundation of our understanding of our rights away from us, that is to say that they come from God, and put them in the hands of men and say that they come from the Supreme Court or they come from the legislature or they come from the executive,” he added.
The end of the Civil War, Peroutka claims, produced an “evil anti-God, anti-Christian revolution” that led to a “tyrannical consolidation of power” in Washington, D.C., undermining the “biblical worldview that acknowledges Christ’s authority over all things.”
Peroutka also contends that the gay rights movement isn’t just “federalizing homosexuality” but “federalizing perversion,” even claiming that the federal government violated the Constitution by imposing civil rights laws on the states.
“[T]he so-called civil rights laws are not law,” he said in 2013. “They never should’ve been passed. They’re not law now, they weren’t law then. They aren’t law now because there is no such thing as a civil right.”
Since Peroutka believes “rights come from God” and not civil government, he argues that all civil rights laws are illegitimate since “the term ‘civil rights’ is kind of an oxymoron. There’s no ‘right’ in the sense of a permanent, fixed, thing that you have, that can be defended, if in fact it comes from the civil government.”
Now Moore is once again putting Peroutka’s words into action, threatening state judges who lawfully issue a marriage licenses to a same-sex couples. Because in the eyes of Moore and Peroutka, their personal reading of the Bible takes precedence over the law of the land.