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The Christian hate group Liberty Counsel is attempting to rally its members against a bill that would protect marriage equality nationwide… by invoking the specter of child brides. It’s a desperate tactic for a group that’s never been known for honesty or decency.

All of this stems from the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. If the ultra-conservative Court followers the advice of Clarence Thomas and overturns Obergefell in a similar way, marriage equality could once again depend on the state in which you live. Up to 32 states would likely see same-sex marriage banned in that situation. (It’s unclear what would happen in those cases to gay couples that are currently married.)

But in order to avoid that potential disaster, Democrats in the House recently voted to pass the “Respect for Marriage Act.” If the Senate follows suit—which remains to be seen—the bill would require all states to respect the marriage laws of other states (as they already do with straight couples). So a gay couple married in New York would still be considered legally married in Alabama… even if Alabama, after the overturning of Obergefell, reverts to a ban on same-sex marriage.

The same bill would also protect interracial marriages the same way. It’s a simple proactive solution to a potentially horrible situation.

So naturally, Republicans are doing everything they can to prevent that bill from passing. When 47 Republicans in the House supported it, Christian Right leaders denounced those politicians, calling their votes “tragic” and “discouraging.”

Enter Liberty Counsel. The conservative Christians running that organization have always opposed marriage equality, and they’ll do just about anything to go back to a time when Republican-led states could make same-sex marriage illegal. It’s not a surprise that they oppose this bill; they can’t stand civil rights for LGBTQ people. Their approach to getting their members on board, however, is a radical departure from their usual anti-LGBTQ bigotry.

Instead of talking about how the bill would protect marriage (which sounds too good to oppose) and instead of mentioning how it would protect interracial marriage (which even they know they shouldn’t fight against), they released a statement claiming the bill would spread “child marriage” across the country.

Liberty Counsel is using the idea of child brides to rally its members against a gay marriage protection bill

California’s “child bride” laws take the handcuffs off pedophiles and put them on victims of child sexual abuse. Now a measure in the U.S. Senate seeks to force California’s child marriage laws on the rest of the country. Please help us save the tens of thousands of little girls married off to adult men right here in America. Help us STOP HR 8404/S 4556 by faxing the U.S. Senate today. HR 8404 will allow one “state, territory and possession” of the U.S. to dictate marriage policy for the entire nation.

They managed to stick Christian bogeymen like “pedophiles,” “California” and nationalized policies all in one paragraph… while ignoring the actual purpose of the bill: To protect marriage equality in case the conservative justices on the Supreme Court cause more chaos.

To be clear, this is not a “California” problem. At least it’s not only a California problem. It’s certainly a problem, though. North Carolina and Alaska allow 14-year-olds to marry in certain circumstances. Most states (!) allow children under 18 to marry. Only six states prohibit child marriage altogether.

The appropriate reaction to that travesty would be for Liberty Counsel to push for a bill prohibiting child brides across the country. Instead, they cherry-picked California (despite having plenty of red state options) as a way to instill fear about pedophilia among its conservative Christian base… while neglecting to tell those same people that it’s conservative Christians who tend to support child marriage.

Consider this: When Louisiana lawmakers tried passing a bill ending child marriage in 2019, Republicans fought against it.

“If they’re both 16 years old, and they both consent to sexual relations, and they’re about to have a baby, why wouldn’t we want them to be married?” state Rep. Nancy Landry, a Republican, said at the time.

Kathleen Benfield, the legislative director for the Louisiana Family Forum, an influential conservative nonprofit in the state, said that her organization was also concerned about forcing a teen mother to give birth out of wedlock if the age was set at 18 with no exceptions.

“We would oppose any exploitation of young girls by older men — that’s the bottom line,” Benfield said. “But we just wanted to make sure that the value of marriage as a cherished institution was supported.”

If a 16-year-old is pregnant, telling her she ought to get married doesn’t solve the damn problem. But that’s conservative Christianity for you.

A Salon article from 2018 also noted the straight line between conservative religions and child marriage:

This link between evangelical Christianity and child marriage actually has been explored recently in the wake of stories of failed Senate candidate Roy Moore’s proclivitiesEvangelical communities still push for child marriages between girls in their “middle teens” and men in the mid-twenties or older. According to these groups, younger girls make better spouses because they are blank slates and can be more easily “molded” to serve their future husbands better. What is even more troubling in these communities is that the predominant narrative is that it is the young girl who is pursuing the older man, which means that the pregnant 15-year-old is the one who “sinned” by overcoming the resistance of the adult man who had sex with her.

Evangelicals are not the only religious group pushing for child marriage. Many orthodox religions allow or encourage child marriage and, for families in these religions, the parents are the ones pushing for marriage, either to cover up a pregnancy or to increase their standing in the community.

Liberty Counsel didn’t mention any of that. Instead, its leader, Mat Staver, acted like California liberals were promoting pedophilia (a lie) and want to legalize it nationwide (another lie) and this marriage equality bill is the vehicle to make it happen (also a lie).

Instead of demanding an end to child marriage in all cases, which might infuriate their conservative Christian donors, Staver and Liberty Counsel spread a lie. It’s what they do. Nothing in their religion ever taught them lying was a sin.

On a side note, their scare tactics aren’t even the end of the story. Liberty Counsel’s statement calls on people to click a link in order to “SEND MY FAX NOW” to Republican senators who have not yet taken a position on the bill. Faxes. [Insert your own joke about how conservative Christians are decades behind everybody else.]

But if you click on that link, it’s not like you get to send a fax. Instead, you have to pay Liberty Counsel up to $65 so that they’ll send the faxes for you. Do faxes cost that much? Of course not. You can go to a local UPS store and fax one page for a buck or two. Liberty Counsel just wants to pocket everyone’s cash, and they freely admit it… if you can read the fine print:

Liberty Counsel wants your cash… to send a cheap fax.

Faxes will be delivered shortly after donation is made. Any amount you give above the cost to send a fax supports our organization.

If anyone wants me to send an email for them, I’m happy to do it for the low, low cost of $100. I’ll keep the change.

It’s all just right-wing grifting by a conservative Christian group with no ethical compass whatsoever.

Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.