Anti-Equality Leaders Demand Congressional Conservatives Stop Bill Protecting Freedom to Marry

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins praised Donald Trump on C-SPAN's Washington Journal in August 2020

Members of the Conservative Action Project, a far right-wing network that supported former President Donald Trump’s efforts to stay in office after his 2020 election defeat​, are demanding that Congress reject legislation protecting the freedom to marry. So are the anti-equality Alliance Defending Freedom and leaders of dozens of other religious-right groups.

The Respect for Marriage Act passed the House of Representatives on July 19 with the support of about one-quarter of House Republicans, reflecting the reality that more than 70 percent of Americans—including a majority of Republicans—support the freedom of same-sex couples to get married. More than 90 percent of Americans support marriage rights for interracial couples, who are also protected under the legislation.

But religious-right leaders hostile to legal equality for LGBTQ people were angry that the bill received bipartisan support. They have refused to recognize the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling as legitimate, and they have been emboldened by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s call for the court to overturn rulings recognizing and protecting the rights of LGBTQ people and same-sex couples the way it overturned Roe v. Wade.

A group of anti-equality leaders signed a Conservative Action Project letter dated July 26, which claimed that the Respect For Marriage Act would “wrongly marginalize social conservatives” and further “a new era of oppression” that the letter claims was unleashed when the Supreme Court recognized the right of same-sex couples to get married.

In addition, dozens of religious-right leaders signed onto a similar letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, also dated July 26, that was organized by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious-right legal powerhouse that seeks to overturn marriage equality as one of the “generational wins” it is pursuing. ADF’s letter charges that that Respect for Marriage Act is an “attack” on people who want their views that marriage should only be between a man and a woman “recognized in the law.”

The Conservative Action Project letter justifies its fearmongering rhetoric with a reference to Bob Jones University v. United States,​ ​in which the Supreme Court ruled in 1983 that the IRS could deny tax-exempt status to schools with racially discriminatory policies, even if those policies were grounded in religious belief. White evangelical leaders’ anger over IRS challenges to segregationist religious schools helped fuel the rise of the modern-day religious-right movement.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins signed both letters. When the Respect for Marriage Act passed the House, Perkins charged Republicans supporting marriage equality with “political cowardice.” FRC was knee-deep in efforts to subvert the 2020 election.

Also urging lawmakers to reject marriage equality is Ralph Drollinger, whose Capitol Ministries uses Bible studies for members of Congress and other public officials to tell Christian lawmakers it is their duty to evangelize their colleagues and enact policies that align with Drollinger’s very conservative interpretation of the Bible. Drollinger devotes this week’s Bible study and a column in the Western Journal to his argument that scripture “crushes the same-sex marriage debate.” Drollinger writes, “It is not the place of the state nor its populace to redefine what God has created”—and suggests that pro-LGBTQ Christian leaders are “Satan’s pawns.” During the Trump administration, Drollinger conducted Bible studies for members of the Cabinet and used Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to open doors for him to expand internationally.

The Conservative Action Project is affiliated with the Council for National Policy, a secretive and influential political network bringing together different strands of the right-wing movement. In December 2020, the Conservative Action Project distributed a letter falsely claiming, “There is no doubt President Donald J. Trump is the lawful winner of the presidential election. Joe Biden is not president-elect.” That December 2020 letter urged legislators in six battleground states to ignore the ​will of the voters and appoint pro-Trump electors to the Electoral College.​