Right-wing media are returning to decades-old homophobic rhetoric in their attacks on the bipartisan push to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, claiming that equal protections for same-sex marriages will somehow hurt children and usher in everything from pedophilia to bestiality.
Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion in the recent Supreme Court decision overturning federal abortion protections provoked renewed concern for the fate of marriage equality, after he called for the court to reconsider Obergefell v. Hodges — the court case that seven years ago extended the right to marry for same-sex couples nationwide.
In reaction, on July 18 lawmakers introduced the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA), which would enshrine federal protections for same-sex marriages. The bill received bipartisan support in the House, with 47 GOP representatives joining with Democrats to pass the legislation on to the Senate.
Right-wing media resurrect homophobic rhetoric to claim the RFMA will lead to “pedophilia” and “bestiality”
But since the RFMA was introduced, right-wing media has straddled the precarious line of simultaneously vilifying the fight for marriage equality while continuing to downplay the threat to it after the recent Supreme Court decision. A recent Gallup poll found 71% of Americans say that they support protections for marriage equality — a record high.
Conservative attacks on the RFMA have appealed to a familiar form of homophobia found in criticism of marriage equality from decades prior: namely, claims that marriage equality represents a slippery slope that will lead to everything from polygamy to bestiality and pedophilia. Right-wing figures like Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham made similar claims prior to the Obergefell decision, later retooling the slippery slope rhetoric to fit different anti-LGBTQ narratives after it failed to stop their gay marriage boogeyman. This same rhetoric was also recently pushed by extremist anti-LGBTQ organizations working to overturn marriage equality.
- On the Daily Wire’s The Matt Walsh Show, host Matt Walsh questioned the purpose of marriage based on anything other than the ability to procreate, asking, “Why do you need to be married to love each other? And if love is the one prerequisite here, then on what basis do you limit this union to two people or two adults or whatever?” Walsh went on to claim, “There was a sensible boundary before and now there's none.”
- A July 21 op-ed from the editors at National Review suggested the RFMA could be used to eliminate laws against underage or incestuous marriages, saying, “And there are still unanswered questions about the Respect for Marriage Act. Its promise of total reciprocity among states, without exception or limitation, suggests the effacement of laws that regulate the age of consent for marriage and prohibitions against consanguineous marriages.”
- Speaking on The Daily Signal’s podcast on July 26, the Heritage Foundation’s Jared Eckert falsely claimed the RFMA was “really about codifying something more radical, specifically polygamy,” with host Doug Blair claiming that “if a state decided that bestiality, that marrying a dog would be legal, this bill would say that at the federal level that would have to be recognized.” Eckert went on to claim that those Republicans supporting the bill signaled a “shift” that was “a fulfillment in this sexual revolution.”
- On Twitter, right-wing author James Lindsay fearmongered about the RFMA becoming “a national pedo bill if even one activist state dropped the age of marriage low.” (While Lindsay has helped popularize false narratives about LGBTQ people sexualizing children, right-wing media largely ignored an actual attempt by Republican lawmakers to eliminate age requirements for marriage.)
- On the July 28 edition of OAN’s The Tipping Point, host Kara McKinney claimed the purpose of the bill was to “usher in a new era of, well, anything goes for marriage,” saying: “You give the inch, they'll take a mile. If they want to try and settle on the gay marriage debate, as you were saying earlier, then its the thrupples and it's polygamy and pedophiles, pedophilia even, as we’re starting to see more and more. They'll lower the age of consent. We’ll see incest, who knows what they have up their sleeves, but we can’t give this inch because they definitely will take that mile. It’s not hypothetical. They've been doing it for years now right under our noses.”
Right-wing media push narrative that marriage equality hurts children
Other right-wing outlets and figures tied their criticism of the RFMA to claims that heterosexual relationships were inherently more moral than same-sex relationships, while depicting the children of gay couples as “victims of bad marriage policy.”
- On Twitter, Daily Wire founder Ben Shapiro suggested the belief that gay relationships are “morally equivalent and similarly societally useful” compared with relationships between straight people was a “lie” used to “facilitate sexual self-esteem.”
- A July 19 article for The Federalist described marriage equality as “adult desire masquerad[ing] as a right” and said the children of married gay couples lost “half their heritage,” describing them as “suffering” and “child victims of bad marriage policy.”
- The Daily Signal published a July 27 article claiming “the link between a strong marriage culture and a stable society has been downplayed in the United States in recent years as gratifying adult sexual desires has superseded the welfare of children as a societal goal.” The article went on to claim that “even ancient societies indifferent to the morality of same-sex behavior” believed that heterosexual couples were “best suited to care for and raise their children.”
- The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles claimed on his July 25 podcast that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten, had a child through surrogacy “with the intention to deprive that child of his natural mother” and so that they “can feel more like they're in a real marriage,” later asserting that Buttigieg “isn't really married.”