Welcome to RelPol, a student peer reviewed online magazine. This magazine is part of the assessment for the module "In God We Trust" @ the University of Hull.
It cannot be denied that the influence of religion on politics (Christianity in particular) in the United States is still substantial. The Obergefell v. Hodges Ruling of June 2015 which overturned the current ban on same-sex marriage in certain states and made it legal nationwide has taken its place in history as a landmark decision for the United States. It would appear to have moved the US one step closer to achieving a much clearer distinction between the separation of church and state. However, as the cartoon wittily demonstrates, can this ever be truly achieved?
Put incredibly simply by the Huffington Post, “Religion is important for American politics because religion is important for Americans.” It is almost unheard of for a President to deliver a crucial speech without at some point invoking God to bless America. In 2012 a reported 65% of Americans said that religion was important in their daily lives, however a substantially lower number actually attend church or pray to God regularly. It is most likely a case of religion being so deeply embroiled in the fabric of American life that a growing number of non-believers are either afraid to voice their opinions for fear of reprisal from their families and communities, or people simply do not feel strongly about sitting on either side of the fence.
Just watching the political debates and rallies taking place in the country is enough to make it clear to the viewer that religion plays a very influential part in a candidate’s campaign (particularly the GOP candidates). Many politicians feel that the notion of the ‘traditional marriage/family’ is at risk – in an article written for the Journal of Marriage and Family, extensive research was found to reveal that “attitudes about marriage as an institution, not one’s personal experience with marriage, drive attitudes toward gay marriage”. Given that religion appears to have (mistakenly) claimed marriage as an institution purely of its own making, attitudes opposing same-sex marriage, particularly among Republicans, make more sense in this context.
Positively however, The Pew Research Center released statistics this year showing that public attitudes in favour of same-sex marriage have increased from 35% in 2001 to 55% in 2015. This is due to many factors, including the generation gap difference and of course, the rise in secularism amongst other reasons. Of course however, there is still a very strong difference of opinion between the two main political parties on the issue of support for same-sex marriage, with just 32% of Republicans in favour, as opposed to 66% of Democrats. So why do so many Americans reject the notion of equality? According to scholar Ann Ferguson, “The national identity, the ‘American way of life,’ is portrayed as so dependent on our intimate sexual and reproductive choices that private life must be made a public political issue, and wrong choices here are seen to undermine our national identity.”
Another point of laughable contention among the debate for equal marriage rights comes in the saga of Kentucky county clerk Kim Davies (as depicted in the cartoon above). Davis became renowned among followers of LGBT news in particular for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples coming into her registry office, despite the SCOTUS ruling just days before. She began denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples, then also to opposite-sex couples in order to ‘make a point’. Essentially, she used her opinions as a devout Pentecostal Christian to enact her beliefs on other people, despite the fact that she was clearly breaking the law. As more angry couples began to appeal against her, Davis became openly more hostile, claiming that she was acting “under Gods authority”.
As couples began to sue Davis (and others), legal proceedings were enacted, and Davis was soon re-ordered to issue the licenses. She of course refused, and was subsequently jailed for contempt of court; five days later she was released, and in what became known as an bizarre display of hypocrisy, she was greeted by a large crowd of supporters, appearing onstage to the tune of ‘Eye of the Tiger’ whilst Republican politician Mike Huckabee embraced her crying form, and essentially declared her a martyr for the Christian cause. It is important to note however that Davis is an extremist in this case, and that there are many religious people who are in favour of same-sex marriage. On the Democratic side for example, Obama is a practising Christian, but played a huge part in pushing the bill for equality through and voicing his support.
Davis has thankfully never gained majority public support. She has been the subject of merciless ridicule by her opponents, particularly on the internet, with the endless creation of memes exposing her justification for her actions for exactly what it is; illegal and uncalled for. Also, the irony of the fact that Davis has been married four times and has had children out of wedlock was not lost on people, as the international community fought to expose her refusal to do her job as ludicrous. Despite the uproar and calls for her dismissal, due to her status as an elected official, she will (unfortunately) remain employed until all legal proceedings are complete.
She is a classic example (in my opinion) of someone attempting to bend the not-so fine line between exercising your right to religious freedom and simply being a hateful, law-breaking bigot. No matter what side of the issue you are on, her actions go against the SCOTUS ruling and are therefore unjustified. However, whilst religion remains such a strong, guiding force in so many aspects of American public life, so too will people such as Kim Davis continue to commit acts of discrimination in the name of their ‘faith’, illegal or not. We can only hope for a better future as the newer generation are becoming ever more tolerant and accepting, and the haters are being slowly but surely put back in their place.
Brumbaugh, Stacey M. et al. ‘Attitudes toward Gay Marriage in States Undergoing Marriage Law Transformation’, Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 70, No. 2 (May, 2008)
Ferguson, Ann. ‘Gay Marriage: An American and Feminist Dilemma’, Hypatia, Vol. 22, No. 1, Writing Against Heterosexism (Winter, 2007)