THE BLOG

Courting Disaster: When Good Reactions Go Bad

06/29/2015 12:01 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2016

I understand that not everyone supported the Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage. Not everyone supported the Court's decision on Brown v. the Board of Education either. Or Bush v. Gore. Of course, if everyone agreed about everything there wouldn't be a need for a Supreme Court. So, I understand the divide of disagreement. And I understand the hurt. And anger. More than many rulings, it dealt with an emotional topic.

What I found striking, though, about the reaction to the decision was not that people disagreed, but how the level of angst expressed seemed beyond irrational to the point of zealotry. And not just the general public bemoaning things, but all minority members of the Supreme Court itself.

For instance there was Chief Justice John Roberts trying to shame advocates in the case by using a "logic" so tangled it would confuse Lewis Carroll -- lecturing the winning side of all they'd lost "and lost forever" by virtue of winning. (A claim that would do honor to the Jabberwock.) On the other hand, he no doubt must actually be personally overjoyed at the decision, believing that everyone on the losing side, himself included, is now rejoicing at all they'd won -- and won forever -- by losing.

By his convoluted baying at the moon, the Chief Justice apparently feels it better to deny a Constitutional right for the sake of hoping that the public of each state would all vote in favor of the law -- one day. Of course, by that same standard, we might still today have slavery, and womenfolk would still be hoping for the right to vote.

Leading the way, though, in judicial distemper is Justice Antonin Scalia, whose very opening of his dissent read: "I join THE CHIEF JUSTICE's opinion in full. I write separately to call attention to this Court's threat to American democracy."

A threat to democracy. Seriously. He wrote that. Really. And not just any democracy, but a threat most specifically to American democracy.

I think it's appropriate to point out to Mr. Scalia that the Citizens United decision and the decision in favor of Hobby Lobby were FAR greater actual threats to democracy than who someone marries. When you determine that money is somehow speech, then a single person with more money that 100,000 people can push his views louder and farther in a democracy than they can together. And when people can ignore laws simply because they claim it's against their religious beliefs (most especially without having to define that religion, which can be almost anything, for who are we to say what a man's religious beliefs are), it opens the door in a democracy to anarchy.

Who you marries falls quite a ways lower than those standards on the "threat to American democracy" scale. If it exists on the same scale at all.

I expect the crazy drunk who is standing in the middle of traffic and holding up a cardboard sign to express such a screed. I don't expect it of a a Supreme Court Justice. Even one as hyperbolic as Antonin Scalia. (Indeed, I'm still waiting for the long-overdue apology from Mr. Scalia who 21 years years go claimed that Henry McCollum was the "perfect example" justifying the death penalty, only to have Mr. McCollum just pardoned for not committed the crime.) So, while I'm not remotely surprised that Justice Scalia had a hissy-fit meltdown over a same-sex marriage decision he didn't agree with, that it's still so angst-ridden even by his standards is impressive, if bizarre.

After all, it's worth noting (and importantly so) that even before this Supreme Court decision, same-sex marriage was actually legal in 37 states throughout the U.S. and, in case it passed Justice Scalia's notice, democracy has handled itself not only just swell, but without a hiccup.

I also completely understand why those with deeply-conservative religious views disagree with the decision. (Though to be clear not all those with religious views, or even all those with Christian views disagree with it. Just mostly this evangelical subset.) If in their interpretation of the Bible the decision goes against what they personally believe God teaches them. it would be surprising if they weren't upset. Just as those who are strictly religious and don't believe one should work on the Sabbath.

But the lack of their understanding how laws and democracy -- and religious belief -- work is what has stood out so profoundly.

Listening to the radio after the decision, I heard the head of a religious organization lamenting his unhappiness in a manner that seemed to leave him lost, and anxiously bewildered. I suspect he spoke for many when he asked, "What about all the people whose religion teaches them that same-sex marriage is wrong???"

It was at moments such as this you wished your radio had one of those great two-way communication buttons, so you could explain. And it is an explanation that seemed pretty basic --

"You're okay. Nothing changes. You are free to believe whatever you want to believe. That's your Constitutional and God-given right. You still have to follow the laws of the United States -- that's what democracy and citizenship is about -- but you can believe whatever you want. If you don't want to marry someone of the same sex, you don't have to. If you don't want to attend a same-sex wedding, you don't have to. If you don't even want to associate with anyone who is married to another person of the same sex, you don't have to. In fact, if you want to believe that everyone who supports the law is going to Hell, you are free to. (This doesn't mean they will, but you are free to believe it.) If you want to move to a country that doesn't permit same-sex marriage, you can -- though the number of countries open to you where you'd likely be happy to live is dwindling. All of North America, nearly all of South America, and much of Western Europe are out. You should also remember that the very day before the Court's decision, you were living in a country where 74% of the states allowed same-sex marriage, and you seemed to survive that just fine with your religious beliefs. Of course, you could also find another minister of your church whose understanding of the Bible is able to teach you a different interpretation and bring you in comfort and concert with God's word and U.S. law. After all, over the ages, mankind has adjusted so much of what the Bible says to the ever-changing world, and some things we once saw as specific teachings of God, like stoning women and stoning our children, we now see in another light. But even if you don't want to move or change your understanding, you can still believe exactly as you do now. Because religious belief is what is in your heart and your heart alone, and how how others believe and act has no bearing on that at all. It is how you manifest your personal beliefs in your actions towards others in the outside world that define who we are. Your religious belief is your own and will remain your own. It is only your actions in life towards the world that is at one with all mankind. So, don't worry. The Supreme Court ruling doesn't effect at all how you believe."

And what I understand, too, is that when there are Supreme Court decisions such as this, there will always be politicians who pander to the masses in expressing their "outrage." But when you go beyond that and have people like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) -- or not just "like" Ted Cruz, but specifically Ted Cruz -- trying to curry favor with the religious right and write an op-ed in the National Review to express their supposed displeasure with the decisions by proposing a Constitutional Amendment for public voting on Supreme Court Justices, it only serves to prove as explicitly as possible why our Founding Fathers separated the three branches of government and Justices are appointed for life.

Still, as far as "threats to democracy" go, it would be nice to hear how Antonin Scalia chimes in on that one.

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To read more from Robert J. Elisberg about this or many other matters both large and tidbit small, see Elisberg Industries.