Political Horizons: Gay marriage issue shapes campaign trail

This past week — the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ordering the federal government to recognize same sex marriages — challenges to individual states restricting gay marriage bobbed up in Louisiana and across the country.

In New Orleans federal district court on Wednesday, J. Dalton Courson, a New Orleans lawyer, argued that Louisiana’s constitutional ban on gay marriages had the same due process and equal protection maladies that the June 26, 2013, U.S. vs. Windsor opinion found fault with in the federal law.

Arguing for the state, Kyle Duncan countered that the Supreme Court also found individual states could decide the issue.

Because more than a dozen similar lawsuits are pending around the country, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, of New Orleans, said he wanted more information before deciding.

On that same day, an Indiana federal district court rejected that state’s ban, and marriage licenses were being issued an hour later. Then, Denver’s 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that struck down Utah’s gay marriage restrictions. The 10th Circuit also covers Oklahoma, where another challenge is underway.

Five other federal appellate courts are considering overturning state same-sex prohibitions, with the next decision probably determining the fate of a Virginia law that is worded much like Louisiana’s.

Not in civil court, but certainly related, a United Methodist Church panel on Tuesday reinstated the Rev. Frank Schaefer of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, who was defrocked after presiding over his son’s same-sex wedding.

“There is no doubt that the echo today is to strike down laws that differentiate between traditional and same-sex marriage,” said Judge Feldman.

Not so, says Rick Edmonds, a former Baptist minister who now works for Louisiana Family Forum, the Baton Rouge-based advocacy group for conservative Christians. Voters around the country approved restricting same-sex marriages with overwhelming majorities.

During the recent session, the Louisiana Legislature easily defeated 11 bills that would have stopped bosses, landlords and others from discriminating on the basis of sexual preference. That demonstrates widespread support, at least in this state, for not creating protections in civil law that would legitimize a class of people whose behavior contradicts the religious beliefs of many Christians, he said.

“We have a precedent that has been set for generations that declared the definition of marriage” as between one man and one woman, Edmonds said, adding that had been an accepted definition throughout the history of the U.S. “And now we have a group of folks who are attempting to redefine the Biblical definition.”

Oklahoma, Utah and Louisiana were among the 11 states where voters decided the anti-gay marriage issue on the same November 2004 ballot that re-elected President George W. Bush. Many political analysts postulate that the purpose of placing the issue on the ballot was to increase turnout of conservative Christians in a tight election.

Bush narrowly won the national election, and it was Ohio that pushed him over the top. Ohio, which also was voting on a same-sex marriage ban, gave the president an 118,000 majority out of 5.6 million cast.

The Associated Press reported that exit polls showed that white evangelical and born-again Christians made up 26 percent of the electorate in the 2012 general election. The group has far more power in lower-turnout Republican primary elections.

With American voters becoming more and more ideologically isolated, as a June 12 Pew Research Center study documents, elections will be decided more by hyperbole that energizes the base than by oratory that persuades the masses.

All of which may help explain why Gov. Bobby Jindal is talking about rebellions brewing, as he did June 21 at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference. True, the war against Christianity and brewing rebellion images have been staples of Jindal’s speeches for years.

But Jindal’s poll numbers in key primary states consistently register in the low single digits, if at all, and that may account for the rise of those themes in his recent narrative, says G. Pearson Cross, head of the Political Science Department at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Perhaps Jindal’s rhetoric, which resonates with conservative Christians, can serve as tinder for a fire. If the flames catch, then he can add the logs of his administrative record of governing in the national GOP way, such as enacting school vouchers, then fan with his pro-business stances.

“It could be that Jindal is just trying to catch fire,” Cross said.

Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate Capitol news bureau. His email address is mballard@theadvocate.com.