Supreme Court Justices Blast Marriage Equality As "Ruinous" To Religious Freedom

Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Samuel Alito Jr., wrote a lengthy criticism of the 2015 landmark case saying it fails to protect people's religious beliefs.

Justice Clarence Thomas in November, 2018. Thomas wrote a lengthy critique on Monday of a landmark 2015 case that legalized marriage equality in all 50 states — a case he dissented. | Getty Images
Justice Clarence Thomas in November, 2018. Thomas wrote a lengthy critique on Monday of a landmark 2015 case that legalized marriage equality in all 50 states — a case he dissented. | Getty Images

Hours into the Supreme Court resuming work remotely on Monday, two justices roundly criticized a landmark case that granted same-sex couples the right to marry in the U.S. The justices claimed the case gave governments, employers, and schools the right to “vilify” people with religious beliefs “as bigots.”

The criticism came after the Supreme Court declined to hear a petition from former Kentucky court clerk Kim Davis, who was jailed in 2015 after refusing to issue marriage licenses to LGBTQ+ couples. Davis made national headlines and faced several lawsuits.

After the court denied Davis’ appeal, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito Jr. provided a statement on her case that criticized Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 decision that legalized marriage equality in all 50 states. Thomas and Alito dissented in that 5-4 ruling.

On behalf of the two justices, Thomas wrote four pages of criticism, calling Davis “one of the first victims” of Obergefell and its “cavalier treatment of religion.” He said that because of the case, Davis was forced to choose between her job as county clerk and her religious views.

“Due to Obergefell, those with sincerely held religious beliefs concerning marriage will find it increasingly difficult to participate in society without running afoul of Obergefell and its effect on other antidiscrimination laws,” Thomas wrote, adding that “parties have continually attempted to label people of good will as bigots merely for refusing to alter their religious beliefs in the wake of prevailing orthodoxy.”

Thomas went on to condemn the court for legalizing marriage equality by creating “atextual constitutional rights,” rather than allowing the people to choose through a democratic process. He said it left “those with religious objections in the lurch.”

“[Davis’] petition provides a stark reminder of the consequences of Obergefell,” Thomas continued. “By choosing to privilege a novel constitutional right over the religious liberty interests explicitly protected in the First Amendment … the Court has created a problem that only it can fix. Until then, Obergefell will continue to have ‘ruinous consequences for religious liberty.’”

The Supreme Court resumed session for the first time on Monday since Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18. The Trump administration and Republican senators have for weeks been pushing to quickly fill the court’s open seat and confirm Trump’s nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, whose confirmation hearings are set to begin on October 12.

After President Trump and multiple GOP congressional members, including two who sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, tested positive for COVID-19, the timeline of the confirmation process has raised concerns. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham have both vowed to adhere to the original timeline, despite criticism from Democrats and numerous polls that have found American voters would prefer the seat to be filled after the election.

In 2017, Barrett was questioned during her congressional hearing to be confirmed as a federal judge about accepting money from an LGBTQ+ hate-group called Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the group as a “legal advocacy and training group that has supported the recriminalization of sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ adults in the U.S.” The SPLC goes on to say the group defended “state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad.”

Barrett claimed during her hearing that she was “not aware” of the group's “policy positions” and gave a one-hour lecture for the group, but she was a paid speaker five times for a fellowship program sponsored by ADF.