Let the Backlash Begin

Four days after the landmark Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges the Republican Caucus in the Arkansas State Legislature unanimously pledged to do everything in their power to ensure that the ability to discriminate will remain an option in the state.  Of course this is after that group had earlier this year passed a law that makes it unlawful for municipalities in the state to pass any non-discrimination statutes that provide more protections than are afforded by the state.  There have been at least four cities that have already passed non-discrimination in housing and employment laws for their gay and lesbian citizens.

On June 30 Republican House Majority Leader Ken Bragg released the following statement:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark – Just a few days ago, the Supreme Court of the United States held that there is a constitutional requirement for every State in the Union to license and recognize same-sex marriages. We feel obliged to make our opinions known: namely, that the Supreme Court’s decision is mistaken and dangerous – as a matter of policy, as a matter of law, and as a matter of respect for our Constitution’s function and structure. The Arkansas House of Representatives Republican Caucus stands united in disagreement with the 5-4 United States Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.
By this ruling the Supreme Court denied the will of the majority of Arkansans and the Arkansas Constitution. Amendment 83 affirmed that the citizens of the State of Arkansas believe marriage is between a man and a woman. The Supreme Court has now intruded on States’ powers and further attempted to redefine an institution that God created and only He can change.
Today, we stand firm on our Republican Party Platform which states;
“Bigotry has no place in our state. We denounce those persons, organizations, publications and movements which practice or promote racism, hate actions, or religious intolerance. “
“We believe all Americans should have equal opportunity to succeed regardless of race, national origin, gender, or creed and be granted no special preference based on these criteria.”
“We support the traditional definition of marriage as a God-ordained, legal and moral commitment between a man and a woman. We believe that marriage is the foundational unit of a healthy society. We believe in the sanctity of marriage and the integrity of this institution should be defended, protected, strengthened and nurtured at all levels of government.”
“We affirm our support for Amendment 83 of the Arkansas Constitution as overwhelmingly passed by the people in 2004.”
We refuse to simply shrug our shoulders and abandon basic principles that have guided our country successfully the past 239 years. We will work with other conservative leaders in our state and across the nation, strengthen bonds of unity, and explore all available options. That certainly includes increased legislative protections of our First Amendment freedoms to exercise religion. We pledge today, that as elected representatives of the people of the State of Arkansas, members of the House Republican Caucus will continue our work to protect the traditional views and values of everyday Arkansans.

Reading that I am struck by the claim that bigotry has no place in this state.  What they really mean is that calling out their bigotry has no place in Arkansas and they are going to protect every religious persons right to grind the queers under their heels, and don't you dare call them a bigot while they are denying you a sheet cake at the lovely christian bakery on the corner.

On July 1 the Republican Senate Caucus released the following statement:

Ark Senate Republican Caucus unanimously pledges to propose legislation ensuring SCOTUS ruling regarding same sex marriage does not infringe on religious freedoms of Churches, Pastors, and religious institutions.
In light of the recent U.S. Supreme court decision about same sex marriage, the Arkansas Senate Republican caucus will be drafting legislation to ensure the rights of Churches, pastors, and religious schools and institutions will not be infringed upon.
While the ruling in the Obergefell v Hodges case did not directly address the rights of religious institutions, we will pass legislation in Arkansas to ensure that these organizations may choose not to participate in or host marriages that violate their religious beliefs.
It will also insure their tax exempt or non-profit status will not be affected in any way by exercising their 1st amendment rights and teaching their beliefs about traditional marriage.
We will also ensure that necessary protections exist in statute to protect county clerks from being forced to violate their religious beliefs about marriage in the performance of their duties.

So here in this statement we come to learn that the republican's in the legislature have either absolutely no clue about what the law is or, most likely, they are simply demagoguing the issue by implying that pastors, priests, and places of worship will be forced to participate in the weddings of same-sex couples or face criminal sanctions.   We also learn that they think they can force the IRS to bend to their will.

Later that day Gov Hutchinson issued a statement pushing back just a bit at the legislature in usual milk toast manner, making clear that he doesn't feel there is any law that will allow county clerks to refuse to issue marriage licenses to those same-sex couples who apply. 

“In response to the statements issued today by the House and Senate Republican Caucuses, I am grateful for their continued efforts to assure the religious freedom protection of pastors, churches and religious institutions as a result of last week’s Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage. I share their concern and frustration with the Supreme Court’s decision which is contrary to the expressed will of the Arkansas voter. It is important to note that it affects government action only. It has no bearing on private individuals or institutions. The ability of pastors, churches, and private individuals to follow their own convictions on marriage is protected under the First Amendment and has not been affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling. In terms of further legislative action, I am not aware of any legislation that would protect county clerks from the requirements of the ruling. 

“I am committed to ensuring the rights of pastors, religious institutions, and private individuals to exercise their freedom of conscience. It is my view that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed earlier this year accomplishes this purpose. Regardless, it is very important that our church leaders who have convictions on the definition of marriage understand that I will work every day to protect their right of conscience and freedoms under the 1st Amendment. There will be many future challenges as a result of the Supreme Court decision. I will continue to determine what legislative action is needed to address the myriad of legal issues that will result from the ruling and also what legislation is needed to protect the churches, pastors and religious institutions who cannot follow the dictates of the Court.”

Again here we have a Republican politician implying that churches, pastors, and religious institutions will be forced to engage in the weddings of same-sex partners.  I don't think these republican's are that stupid.  Even if the only news they receive is from FOX.  I do however believe that they feel their constituents are stupid enough to think this and  will vote for those who will stop this tyranny.

Now we have the Attorney General of Arkansas, Leslie Rutledge signing on to a letter to the Majority leaders of Congress in Washington DC urging the congress to take steps to eliminate the IRS's ability to strip non-profit organisations of their tax-exempt status.  At least Rutledge understands that it would take US Congress and not the Ark Congress to affect this change, though it may be the case that she was just adding her signature to a letter by other state's attorneys general.  The statement from her office follows:

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today announced that she has sent a letter to Congressional leaders urging them to take steps to protect the tax-exempt status of nonprofit religious organizations.

“Last week’s majority opinion from the Supreme Court specifically notes that ‘[t]he First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths,’” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Protecting the religious conscience of Arkansas citizens is critically important following the Court’s decision, and I urge the Arkansas Congressional Delegation to speak with their leadership and colleagues so that Congress may take action to stop the IRS from infringing on rights of religious organizations.”

The letter, sent to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), was prompted by statements before the U.S. Supreme Court by Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. during oral arguments in the Obergefell v. Hodges case. When asked if religious-affiliated institutions could have their tax-exempt status revoked if they opposed same-sex marriage, Verrilli said “it’s certainly going to be an issue.”

Rutledge and attorneys general from 14 other States ask that Congress modify the Internal Revenue Code to prevent the Internal Revenue Service from revoking the tax-exempt status of nonprofit religious organizations that disagree with the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

“Under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, citizens have the right to exercise their religion freely without government pressure to change their minds or penalties for unpopular beliefs,” the letter states. “We take very seriously the religious liberty of our States’ citizens and believe that Congress should take action now to preclude the IRS from targeting religious groups in this way.”

The letter says stripping the tax-exempt status of religious organizations would be “an unprecedented assertion of governmental power over religious exercise.”

“To allow the IRS to proceed in this way would suggest that the IRS has the power to target disfavored beliefs in any religious organization, to effectively decide the truth or correctness of a religious belief, and to penalize as a matter of ‘policy’ a mainstream belief held by groups that long have received tax-exempt status,” the attorneys general wrote.

Rutledge signed the letter along with attorneys general from Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

The statement from Gov Hutchinson drew the ire of State Sen Jason Rapert who wrote to his fellow state senators the following:

Subject: Re: Same Sex


I have just read Governor Hutchinson's response to the GOP House & Senate Caucus today which included this interesting statement.

"I will continue to determine what legislative action is needed to address the myriad of legal issues that will result from the ruling and also what legislation is needed to protect the churches, pastors and religious institutions who cannot follow the dictates of the Court.”

I want to be on record with my fellow senators that I am grieved by the arrogance of the statement above. The Governor of this state does not "determine" unilaterally what legislative action the state takes. Only Senators and Representatives in the legislative branch file bills in our state. It appears we have a misunderstanding with the separation of powers in Arkansas as well.

I mean no disrespect but I am going to speak the truth as best I can. I am disappointed that he has positioned himself in opposition to the GOP majority in the legislature and the voters in our state. County Clerk's have 1st Amendment Rights - not just pastors - we all have those rights. The best Constiutional law experts in the nation have advised me personally that Clerks have a 1st amendment defense as religious conscientious objectors. I have done all I can do to help Asa on issues. He may not want to personally be dealing with social issues - but the entire nation is and he is our governor and should be proud to defend the will of the people of Arkansas.

My commitment to fight for the values I committed to when running for office does not end with the illegal decision of 5 black robed attorneys that shredded the 1st Amendment, trampled the 10th Amendment, violated the separation of powers and ruled without out any support from the U.S. Constitution. stances on social issues. Even the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court declared the ruling had no basis in the Constitution and Justice Scalia said the decision is a "threat to American democracy".

This is a great disappointment to me after he pledged to sign the RFRA bill during the session and then reneged at the last moment and put us all through chaos.

I have raised and spent around $800k in four years running for and defending my seat in the Arkansas Senate. I ran against candidates weak on core social issues and I will not abide by my own party selling out the pastors, Christians and other real conservatives that I asked to vote for GOP members including Asa Hutchinson.

Sen. Hendren and Sen. Hutchinson, I apologize for the blunt honesty of this message and do not mean disrespect to your uncle. You both have been my friend, you are our colleagues and you are Senators. The statement today is offensive to more than just me. Our Senate is not an extension of the executive branch. Team players don't roll the rest of the team under the bus like the governor's office has done today.

I've been genuinely threatened by the extreme liberals for standing up for religious liberty, unborn babies and marriage between one man and one woman. I have a lot invested in honest representation of my constituents. I don't like threats to our values from within my own party anymore than I like threats from liberal democrats.

As of today, the executive branch and governors office must rebuild my ability to trust their resolve on core issues fundamental to being an Arkansas Republican.

This has been one of the hardest messages I have ever drafted and I am saddened that it has come to this. I never dreamed the Republican governor we all worked so hard for would disrespect those of us that fought for his election the way he has today.
With deep regret,

Sen. Jason Rapert
Arkansas Senate District 35

We also have Ronnie Floyd the Arkansas pastor who also happens to be the President of the Southern Baptist Convention urging member churches to stand firm in their resistance to same-sex marriage.  Here is a recent blog post by Floyd on 5 steps churches can take to resist same-sex marriage.  And here is a statement from the SBC.

And so it begins.  We can see that the conservative groups are going to be riding this train for at least another generation or two using the threat of the big gay adgenda being mean to the majority of the good christians who only want to be able to keep beating the bible over the heads of gay people.