In 2008, Barack Obama was well within the mainstream of American opinion when he said that “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian—for me—for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God’s in the mix.” Back then, few would have predicted that by 2019 such a view would be beyond the pale for a Democratic candidate.
Of course, not all of Obama’s 2008 position is now anathema. Christians who believe in the sanctity of marriage are still welcome in the Democratic party, provided they mean the right thing by “marriage.” Mayor Pete Buttigieg has made his own brand of pro-LGBT Protestantism a campaign calling card, insisting that those who wouldn’t recognize his own same-sex marriage have “a quarrel with [his] creator.”
Churches, too, will still be welcome in the coming woke integralist regime, provided they teach the accepted creed. During Thursday’s CNN town hall on LGBT issues, failed senate candidate and aspiring president Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke gave an enthusiastic “yes” to the idea of stripping churches and religious institutions (including schools and hospitals) of their tax-exempt status if they refuse to endorse the LGBT agenda. The cheers that greeted O’Rourke’s new position illustrated the enthusiasm of at least a portion of the electorate for the kind of magisterial liberalism many commentators have been warning about for years.
As Justice Marshall famously observed, the power to tax involves the power to destroy. Just this power was considered by the Supreme Court in the 1970 case Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York. The Court, while finding no constitutional imperative on church taxation one way or another, concluded that taxing churches could force some to close, which would certainly entangle government in the business of religion. But for O’Rourke and his ilk, such entanglement is not just inevitable, it is necessary.
Our government is out and proud. Gay marriage is not an option-by-right but a moral good that must be affirmed. The flying of rainbow flags from public buildings is a settled part of our civic landscape. More and more, citizens are being catechized in the new liberal magisterium: Public schools in Illinois, Colorado, New Jersey, and California are now required by law to teach “LGBT history.” Of course, a magisterium cannot, by its nature, be a “take it or leave it” proposition; dissenters from orthodoxy must be disciplined, lest their errors spread. But how?
Those who remember the 1983 Supreme Court case in which the IRS successfully stripped Bob Jones University of its tax-exempt status for banning inter-racial dating can already see a like-for-like application to religious institutions who fail to “woke up” to the new LGBT order.
Obergefell made same-sex marriage the law of the land, but it hardly settled all the related questions. In places like Colorado and Michigan, some have repeatedly challenged—so far unsuccessfully—the right of the state to impose its conscience on religious dissenters. Magisterial progressivism requires an integralist state to entrench its teachings, and Señorito Beto’s bid for the power to compel obedience and destroy through the tax system is the obvious stick to reach for.
Sure, he would argue, this would entail some entanglement of government with religion, but it is necessary to secure the greater common good of society. Besides, this would only be a last resort for those hard cases who refused to conform. The “real” Christians, like Mayor Pete (and likeminded Muslims, and Jews, and Mormons), would have nothing to fear.
Of course, many will dismiss O’Rourke’s outburst as simple attention-seeking from a fringe candidate—polling at less than 2 percent, the chances of a Beto presidency are vanishingly small. But the first decades of the twenty-first century have shown that the policies of the liberal fringe have a way of morphing from “outlier” to “too far” to “too soon” to “it’s the law” within a few years.
Even on Thursday, while refusing to endorse taxation as a solution, Senator Cory Booker conceded that “discrimination is discrimination” when it comes to churches and religious institutions that refuse to tow the LGBT line. “If you are using your position to try to discriminate [against] others, there must be consequences to that,” he said. “And I will make sure to hold them accountable using the DOJ or whatever.”
Conservatives are currently locked in a debate about the merits of our “neutral” political system. Many are looking to a future beyond classical liberalism. But for the magisterial progressives, that future is now.
Ed Condon is a canon lawyer and DC bureau chief for Catholic News Agency.