Religious Right Legal Group Says SCOTUS Can Use Its Case to Overturn Marriage Equality

Liberty Counsel's Mat Staver (Image from April 4, 2021 episode of "Freedom Alive!" television show.)

Religious-right leaders who oppose legal equality for LGBTQ Americans have never accepted the Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage equality ruling as legitimate, and they immediately began planning to seek its reversal. Their hopes were given a huge boost when the Supreme Court’s Trump-fortified right wing overturned Roe v. Wade last year. This week, the anti-equality legal group Liberty Counsel told supporters in an email that it’s about to go to trial with a case that it hopes the Supreme Court’s right-wing majority will eventually use to overturn the Obergefell decision.

Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver and Holly Meade discussed the possibility that overturning Obergefell could be “on the horizon” and “coming soon” back in January.

Liberty Counsel represents Kim Davis, a former Kentucky county clerk whose case has been in and out of the courts since she refused to allow her office to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple after the Supreme Court’s ruling. Davis claimed it was a religious freedom issue, describing marriage equality as a “Heaven-or-Hell decision” for her. A federal court ruled last year that Davis had violated the constitutional rights of two couples she had refused to provide with a marriage license. The trial set to begin in September is to determine whether Davis is liable for damages and the couples’ legal expenses. Staver hopes to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

When Congress was considering the Respect for Marriage Act last year, Staver made wild accusations about the law, claiming that it would “allow pedophiles to marry children.” After it passed Congress and was signed into law, Staver said that LGBTQ people would have a “short-lived” celebration, expressing confidence that Trump’s justices would join the three Obergefell dissenters still on the court to reverse the marriage equality ruling. Staver noted that Justice Clarence Thomas used his opinion in the Dobbs case—which overturned Roe v. Wade—to say the court should reconsider the marriage equality ruling.

Staver has predicted since passage of the Respect for Marriage Act that it would be “the undoing” of Obergefell. His reasoning is that the law would actually make it easier for the Supreme Court to reverse marriage equality and allow states to ban same-sex couples from getting married, because couples who are already married would be “grandfathered” in, preventing the kind of legal and social upheaval that might otherwise be an argument for maintaining Obergefell.

Earlier this year, Staver urged administrators at Christian schools to ban children of same-sex couples from attending, because other students’ “personal experiences” with those families might weaken their commitment to “biblical doctrine” opposing marriage equality.  Exposing kids to families with same-sex parents was like putting them “in a viper pit,” he said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Staver and Liberty Counsel branched out into anti-vaccine conspiracy mongering, with Staver charging at one point that the COVID-19 vaccines were designed to “concentrate” in reproductive organs to “prevent people from procreating.”