Last October, Kansas couple Philip and Sandra Unruh accused gay couples of trying to literally steal their marriage. In a motion to intervene in an unfolding case challenging their state’s ban on same-sex marriage, they referred to their marriage as property, and argued that if the state changes the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, it would be tantamount to taking that property away. “A ruling extending marriage to same sex relationships would deprive the Unruhs of a property right without due process of law,” the motion read.
A month later, Don Boyd, a man from South Carolina, went one step further. If his state legalized same-sex marriage, Boyd argued in a similar motion to intervene in his state’s marriage case, it would steal away his ability to worship God. In the motion, Boyd described himself as an appointed “Watchmen of the souls of the people errantly calling themselves lesbian and gay” and made clear that he did not plan to stand by and do nothing if gays and lesbians began to wed. “Any ratifying of gay 'marriage,'" he wrote, “would compel me to leave off worshipping THE LORD with music and psalms -- free exercise of my religion -- to assume the life of a protester and wedding crasher.”
Last week, Sylvia Ann Driskell, a 66-year-old from Auburn, Nebraska, outdid both Boyd and the Unruhs. In a seven-page handwritten complaint, rife with misspellings, delivered to a federal court in Omaha, Driskell brought suit against all homosexuals in the world. The matter Driskell hopes the court will decide is whether homosexuality is a sin. (Her own view on the matter is clear: It is "an abomination,” she wrote.)
Driskell was not acting alone, according to her complaint, but serving as the appointed “ambassador” for “plaintiffs God and His Son, Jesus Christ.” Driskell does not cite case law or legal precedent, but instead relies heavily on biblical citations and her own views.
"I’m sixty six years old an I never thought that I would see the day in which our Great Nation or Our Great State of Nebraska would become so compliant to the complicity of some peoples lewd behavior,” Driskell wrote. “Look what happen to Sodom and Gomorrah two city because of the same immoral behavior thats present in Our Nation, in Our States, and our Cities; God destroy them.”
The idea of filing a suit against homosexuality itself is a strange one, but it is not new. Back in 2013, anti-gay activist Peter LaBarbera mused on a radio show about the possibility of a class action lawsuit against the sexual orientation. “We always wanted to see one of the kid in high school who was counseled by the official school counselor to just be gay, then he comes down with HIV,” he said. “But we never really got the client for that.”
As opponents of same-sex marriage have suffered loss after loss in the courts and in public opinion, activists have struggled to explain to Americans why they should continue to care about same-sex marriage. All three suits seek to answer a basic question: How, exactly, does legalizing same-sex marriage affect anyone who isn’t gay? Or, as Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan put it in oral arguments over California’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2013, “How does this cause and effect work?”
The documents recall a time when it was enough to simply quote the Bible. Looking over Driskell’s complaint, Jennifer Pizer, a lawyer with LGBT advocacy group Lambda Legal, reflected, “I see it as a marker of a shift from a time when judges, including justices of the Supreme Court, referenced the Bible in denying gay people equal rights, to a time when a case like Driskell’s, while based on some similar views, is seen as a bizarre outlier.”
In 1986, when Pizer was a law student, the Supreme Court ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick that laws banning sodomy were constitutional. Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote that the decision was based on “Judeo-Christian moral and ethical standards” and that affirming a constitutional right to sodomy "would be to cast aside millennia of moral teaching." This decision was reversed in 2003.
No matter how outlandish the complaints from Driskell, Boyd and the Unruhs seem today, Pizer added, the views are not unique. Since the Supreme Court struck down the federal government’s ban on recognizing same-sex marriage in 2013, religious conservatives around the country have ramped up efforts to pass laws that protect religious people from participating in same-sex marriages. “I see these lawsuits as an outlier manifestation of a view that too many people in this country do still have, and you see those views reflected in state legislation,” Pizer said.
It is exceedingly unlikely that Driskell’s suit will be a win of any kind for opponents of same-sex marriage. Driskell did not respond to request for comment, and same-sex marriage opponents seem wary of associating themselves with her cause. As Horatio G. Mihet, a lawyer with the conservative religious legal group Liberty Counsel, put it in an email, “As you know, Liberty Counsel strongly supports natural marriage, and the right of every child to have both, a mom and dad. That said, we have no comment on this particular story.”
On Wednesday, Judge John M. Gerrard of the U.S. District Court for Nebraska dismissed the case. “To the extent that she asks for anything from the Court, it is a declaration that homosexuality is sinful -- a question that the Court cannot answer,” the memorandum reads. “The Court may decide what is lawful, not what is sinful.”
Pizer, for her part, was pleased. “Her complaint tried to pull back the tide of history, and the court has neither the ability nor the authority to do that.”