Several hundred Christian fundamentalists gathered on the south steps of the Capitol today in a rally that was less about the defense of traditional marriage than about preparing for civil disobedience if, as expected, the U.S. Supreme Court later this year declares bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Beneath a sweltering sun on the first truly hot day of the year, the preachers who spoke at the rally alluded to the idea that a nation that allows same-sex marriage is one teetering of the edge of a fiery maw. “It’s hot,” said Rick Scarborough of Vision America. “I don’t know if it means we’re closer to the sun or closer to hell.” The Bishop Sterling Lands of the Family Life International fellowship told the crowd “family is a Kingdom priority,” and added, “Satan holds marriage as high a priority as God does.”

But there was the unmistakable feeling that they knew their triumphs over the gay rights movement were rapidly slipping away as one federal court after another around the country declares bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, as unconstitutional as racial segregation or bans on interracial marriage. We won, the speakers declared one after another, and now the federal courts are taking our victory away. (A federal judge has declared the Texas ban unconstitutional but put his ruling on hold until rulings from higher courts.)

 “It’s not about being anti-anyone. It’s about being for marriage between a man and a woman,” said Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. “The second issue, which is as important, is standing up for the right of the people in a state to determine the decision for public policy in their state, not the federal government.”

Patrick told the audience that the people of Texas spoke unequivocally in 2005 when the state amended its Constitution to define marriage as only occurring between a man and a woman.

“Over 70 percent of the people of Texas, not that long ago, spoke very clearly, clear-thinking people, who looked at the issue and made the decision that this is what we want to have in our state,” Patrick said. “If voters go to the polls and have their voices heard only to be overturned by the federal government, then what voice do the people have on any issue in the future?”

The problem is, we really don’t know what the 2005 election meant in terms of the opinions of Texas. Yes, 76 percent of those who voted favored passage of the marriage-limitation amendment, but only 18 percent of the registered voters bothered to cast a ballot. That’s a ringing endorsement from the motivated voters, but it also indicates the other 82 percent of the registered voters just did not care enough to go to the polls.

Scarborough warned of a “tremendous backlash” if the Supreme Court approves same-sex marriage. He told me afterward that he will refuse to obey and will go to jail if necessary.

Event organizer Steve Hotze of Houston said the Legislature right now needs to pass bills blocking government funding of county clerks who issue same-sex marriage liceneses. Hotze said, “our goal is to send a message to the Supreme Court by passing legislation here.” Hotze described the court’s swing vote as Justice Anthony Kennedy and said if Kennedy sees states like Texas and Alabama defying the federal government he might agree that same-sex marriage is a state’s right issue.

The rally’s keynote speaker was Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. When a federal court earlier this year declared Alabama’s law unconstitutional, Moore led his court into ordering clerks across the state to cease issuing same-sex marriage liceneses.

“Last month, when a federal judge came into our state and through intimidation indicated that all of the probate judges of our state would have to issue same-sex marriage licenses, myself and the Alabama Supreme Court said, ‘No.’ Today, no same sex-marriage licenses are issued in our state,” Moore said, with an air of defiance.

Moore left the distinct impression that the federal judge in the case was a Yankee interloper, if not a carpetbagger. That is hardly the reality. The judge who knocked down Alabama’s ban was U.S. District Judge Callie V. Granade, a native of Virginia and a graduate of the University of Texas Law School. She has lived in Alabama since 1977, working as an assistant U.S. attorney. As a prosecutor, she was aggressive and became known as “The Iron Butterfly.” President George W. Bush appointed Granade to the bench in 2001 on the recommendation of U.S. Senators Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby, Alabama’s first two Republican senators since Reconstruction.

Describing himself as the intersection of patriotism and faith, Moore said judges such as himself usually do not speak publicly. “If I can hold back my opinions at a time such as this I would consider myself guilty of treason toward my country and as an act of disloyalty to the majesty of heaven.”

But there was one aspect of Moore’s speech that struck me as a throwback to the past. “Nothing in the Constitution of the United States, nothing in the laws or precedents of the federal courts, gives the federal courts power over domestic policy of marriage in the state of Texas or Alabama or anywhere else, Moore said, adding that “thirty something states have yielded to federal tyranny unnecessarily…” Moore invoked the line in the sand that William B. Travis supposedly drew at the Alamo to see which men would stand with him and fight to the death for freedom. He urged the crowd to make the same sort of stand against the U.S. Supreme Court on same-sex marriage.

Moore’s speech reminded me of one I heard in my childhood by another Alabama politician. Five decades later, his words against federally court ordered desegregation are painfully hollow.

“Let us rise to the call of freedom-loving blood that is in us and send our answer to the tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South,” said George W. Wallace in his 1963 inaugural address as Alabama’s governor. “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny…and I say…segregation now…segregation tomorrow…segregation forever.”

(Photo: Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore/By Bob Daemmrich)