Donald Trump has nominated conservatives to lifetime appointments in the federal judiciary at a record clip. A number of his nominees have proved controversial, including anti-gay blogger John K. Bush and Brett Talley, a 36-year-old ghosthunter with minimal legal experience. And then there is Jeff Mateer, an anti-LGBTQ lawyer nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. Mateer has called transgender children part of “satan’s plan” and described same-sex marriage as “disgusting” “debauchery.” He also supports “conversion therapy” of LGBTQ people, a discredited practice that often amounts to psychosexual torture.
A persistent theme of Mateer’s interviews and speeches is that the granting of civil rights to LGBTQ people will lead to the persecution of anti-LGBTQ Christians. In March 2015, Mateer expounded on this idea at an event sponsored by the Pennsylvania Pastors Network, explaining that marriage equality posed a grave threat to religious freedom. He recounted the story of Texas Baptists who told him, “We’re sitting out the marriage issue.”
“You can say you’re going to sit it out,” Mateer said, “but you’re not going to be able to sit it out. It is coming to you.” By way of example, he alluded to Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder, a Navy chaplain who was investigated for offensive conduct. Modder was accused of telling students he could “save” gay people who should forego relationships to be “in love with God.” He also allegedly told a student that “the penis was meant for the vagina and not for the anus” while making an obscene hand gesture. According to Mateer, Modder was merely providing “biblical counsel concerning issues like marriage and sexuality,” and faced retaliation “because it offended someone.” (After its investigation, the Navy ultimately allowed Modder to retire in good standing.)
“That’s the federal government saying that,” Mateer concluded. “What’s to stop them? They’re going to come into your churches next.”
This wasn’t the first time Mateer cautioned Christians to beware of federal oppression; in 2013, he compared the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate to Nazi policies. But his dire warnings about marriage equality are especially disturbing in light of the Supreme Court’s decision, handed down three months later, that the Constitution protects same-sex couples’ right to marry. As a district court judge, Mateer would rule on the constitutionality of Texas measures that infringe upon that fundamental right. The state has already asserted that it need not provide spousal benefits to same-sex couples; its conservative government may continue to chip away at those couples’ constitutional rights. Mateer would be the first line of defense for many gay Texans deprived of constitutional dignity by their state government.
Yet Mateer has made his disdain for marriage equality very clear, as well as his belief that gay rights constitute an inherent menace to religious freedom. He has boasted of his bias against gays and criticized those who tolerate or accommodate them. And he has suggested that the federal government cannot respect LGBTQ equality without persecuting the faithful. Once confirmed, he will be a part of that government. And if he follows his own advice, he will be obligated to rule against gay people who attempt to vindicate their rights before his court.