Speaker Mike Johnson Source: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

'Inherently Evil': Speaker Mike Johnson has Voiced Support for Overturning Marriage Equality, Hate Crime Laws

Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 4 MIN.

Human beings are "inherently evil," Speaker of the House Mike Johnson has said in the past. However, according to Johnson, big government can "restrain" the freedoms he disagrees with – including contraception, marriage equality, and the liberty of consenting adults to enjoy sexual intimacy.

Johnson's history of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and his career in seeking to limit the rights of queer people has come under scrutiny since he was elected to the position to replace toppled former speaker Kevin McCarthy, who fell victim to the chamber's far-right wing after working with Democrats to keep the government from running out of money, defaulting on its obligations, and damaging the economy.

But now a survey of Johnson's past comments carried out by CNN reveals anew how deep and wide Johnson's commitment to curtailing freedoms in the name of Biblical "morality" extends.

"On a conservative talk radio show the day the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June 2022, Johnson underscored Justice Clarence Thomas's concurring opinion that the high court should reconsider" such "landmark" decisions as those that struck down laws criminalizing consensual gay sex between adults, affirmed the right of couples to use contraceptives, and extended full marriage equality to committed same-sex families, CNN recounted.

Commenting on the Supreme Court's decisions on those questions, Johnson opined, "There's been some really bad law made."

Added the former lead counsel for Alliance Defense Fund (now known as the Southern Poverty Law Center-certified hate group Alliance Defending Freedom), "They've made a mess of our jurisprudence in this country for the last several decades. And maybe some of that needs to be cleaned up."

But those hot-button culture war issues are only the tip of the iceberg.

CNN's report said that the news outlet's "review of more than 100 of Johnson's interviews, speeches and public commentary spanning his decades-long career as a lawmaker and attorney paints a picture of his governing ideals: Imprisoning doctors who perform abortions after six weeks; the Ten Commandments prominently displayed in public buildings; an elimination of anti-hate-crime laws; Bible study in public schools.

"From endorsing hard labor prison sentences for abortion providers to supporting the criminalization of gay sex, his staunchly conservative rhetoric is rooted in an era of 'biblical morality,' that he says was washed away with the counterculture in the 1960s," CNN added.

The report recalled Johnson declaring in a radio appearance from 2010 that "man is inherently evil and needs to be restrained."

But who should do the restraining when it comes to personal choices and individual agency? The prominent Republican – now a major leader of a party that once purported to stand for limited government and personal freedoms – had a ready answer for that: The federal government.

"One of the primary purposes of the law in civil government is to restrain evil," Johnson declared.

"When asked about Johnson's post-Roe comments, a spokesman for the congressman told CNN that Johnson 'views the cases as settled law'," CNN relayed.

But that means little in the current political climate. After the Supreme Court was reshaped with a conservative super-majority during the Trump years, the bench's justices lost no time in revisiting – and overturning – a half-century of settled law when it struck down "Roe v. Wade," the 1973 ruling that found women had a Constitutional right to determine their own reproductive destinies.

Tellingly, even the current Court is less extreme than Johnson's comments suggest him to be, CNN noted, quoting legal analyst Norm Eisen, who observed, "Speaker Johnson embraces a view that is not only outside of the mainstream but is so radical in terms of his endorsement of the Thomas position, that even the extremely conservative Supreme Court majority isn't willing to go there."

At least, not yet. But Johnson has made a career of pressing for the tenets of evangelical faith to be enshrined in civil law, and he plays directly to his religious-right base. Pastor and political science professor Ryan Burge explained to CNN that, "When he talks about Griswold and Lawrence, evangelicals know that what he really is saying to them is: 'Our way of life is under attack and liberalism is on the march." CNN noted that the references are to "the landmark cases that legalized gay sex and contraception use."

"As an attorney at ADF, Johnson repeatedly battled two organizations in his fight to keep religion in the public square: The American Civil Liberties Union, which he called 'the most dangerous organization in America,' and Americans United for Separation of Church and State," CNN noted, recalling that Johnson declared of the ACLU, "They have convinced an entire generation of Americans that there's this so-called separation of church and state" – a term first used by American founding father Thomas Jefferson, who noted the necessity of a "wall of separation between church and state" to guarantee religious liberty for people of diverse faiths.

"Johnson 'doesn't understand the problem with a government compelling its citizens to follow not just religion, but a particular religion'," former ACLU official Katherine Lewis Parker, "who opposed Johnson in a lawsuit related to prayer at official meetings," told the news outlet. ""I think he is a true believer and I think he wants to blend religion and government," Parker added.

Johnson's enmity for LGBTQ+ equality goes far beyond opposing marriage rights for same-sex families. "Johnson supported an Arkansas law against same-sex couples adopting children, citing it as 'good public policy' in 2008," CNN recalled.

"In 2013, he opposed President Barack Obama's appointment of an 'openly homosexual' ambassador, Wally Brewster, to the Dominican Republic, calling it a provocative move against the Catholic country."

Central to Johnson's thinking, CNN noted, is his claim that being gay is solely a matter of conduct – not an innate sexual orientation reflecting natural variation in human sexuality.

"There are laws on the books that prohibit discrimination against people for their immutable characteristics, their race and creed and that kind of thing," CNN recalled Johnson saying in 2009.

"There's a difference – and the law has recognized a difference – between that and homosexual behavior. As something that you do, not an immutable characteristic of what you are."

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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