Fox News pundit and war-on-Christians propagandist Todd Starnes is gushing over a speech by Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Floyd’s “fiery” and “powerful” and “provocative” comments were part of a diatribe against marriage equality delivered at an SBC gathering in Columbus, Ohio. Floyd called for defiance of a potential Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality with self-aggrandizing, chest-thumping remarks declaring his resistance to a non-existent threat:
“I declare to everyone today as a minister of the Gospel – I will not officiate over any same-sex unions or same-sex marriage ceremonies,” he said. “I completely refuse.”
Starnes praised Floyd for these “resolute” comments, which he says some will label hate speech. They’re more likely to be laughed off as ridiculous. No one in the gay-rights movement wants to force Floyd or any church or minister to marry a same-sex couple. It’s not part of the agenda. But standing up to this non-existent threat apparently got Floyd a standing ovation.
Floyd isn’t the only one using this strategy. Last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made a public fuss over signing the “Pastor Protection Act.” Abbott pretended that its passage was a huge victory for religious liberty, declaring that “pastors now have the freedom to exercise their First Amendment rights.”
In reality, the Texas law was unnecessary, as is Floyd’s brave bluster. The First Amendment is alive and well. Even if the Supreme Court strikes down state laws that keep same-sex couples from getting legally married, Southern Baptist clergy in Texas and every other state will still be free to preach their anti-gay message and refuse to marry same-sex couples. Even Robert Jeffress, a top Southern Baptist pastor and a Fox News contributor, recently told Bill O’Reilly that “nobody” in the anti-marriage equality movement believes that the government will force pastors to officiate same-sex couple’s weddings.
Floyd and Starnes are trying to muddy the religious liberty waters by equating two very different things: one -- requiring a minister to marry a couple against the teachings of his faith – would be an impermissible violation of religious liberty. The other – requiring government officials and people who run businesses serving the public not to discriminate against gay people or same-sex couples – is not.