Anti-Gay Movement Reacts to Decision Overturning Arrest of Two Texas Men for Having Sex

The religious crusade against gays has been building for 30 years. Now the movement is reaching truly biblical proportions

On June 26, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the convictions of two Texas men arrested for having sex. Writing for the majority in Lawrence v. Texas, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that the two men were "entitled to respect for their private lives." The state, he declared, "cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime."

The decision was unusually popular. A national survey found that 75% of Republicans and 88% of Democrats wanted to see sodomy laws struck down. But not everyone cheered.

"Six lawyers robed in black have magically discovered a right of privacy that includes sexual perversion," said Jan LaRue, chief counsel for Concerned Women for America. "This opens the door to bigamy, adult incest, polygamy and prostitution," said Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council.

For anti-gay crusaders, who have been fighting gay rights for three decades, Lawrence was the most unsettling court decision since Roe v. Wade. Fundamentalist groups had filed 15 briefs supporting Texas' sodomy laws, only to see their arguments — that gay sex was a threat to public health and "traditional family values," and that gay people do not deserve equal rights — shot down.

And with the Massachusetts Supreme Court widely expected to rule that fall (as it did) that gay citizens had a right to marry under that state's constitution, anti-gay leaders realized the time was ripe to ratchet up their call to arms.

"America stands at a defining moment," said Lou Sheldon, founder of the Traditional Values Coalition. "The only comparison is our battle for independence."

The anti-gay movement was about to show why many believe it is, in the words of longtime religious right observer Frederick Clarkson, "the best-organized faction in politics." Immediately after the Lawrence decision, D. James Kennedy, president of Coral Ridge Ministries, issued a call to arms.

Now that America's courts were "officially off-limits to the moral framework that has allowed us to enjoy freedom and prosperity," Kennedy said the holy war on gay rights should be renewed on the battlefront of public opinion, pressing for a federal marriage amendment.

For right-wing evangelical ministries like Coral Ridge, which brings in more than $35 million annually, the stakes were never higher. Since the late 1970s, attacks on gay people and their "agenda" had helped to fuel, and pay for, the fundamentalist right's unprecedented rise to political power.

From Lawrence to Election Day, when 11 states voted on anti-gay marriage amendments, groups like Coral Ridge and Focus on the Family spent millions on ad campaigns and get-out-the-vote efforts, while gay marriage and "family values" became staples of cable-TV and talk-radio crossfire.

These anti-gay messages were nothing new. For almost 30 years, the religious right in America has employed a variety of strategies, inside the courtroom and outside, in its efforts to beat back the increasingly confident gay rights movement.

Many of its leaders have engaged in the crudest type of name-calling, describing homosexuals as "perverts" with "filthy habits" who seek to snatch the children of straight parents and "convert" them to gay sex. They have continually bandied about disparaging "facts" about gays that are simply untrue — assertions that are remarkably reminiscent of the way white intellectuals and scientists once wrote about the "bestial" black man.

But never has the anti-gay movement had the momentum it has now, and never has it been so close to achieving its larger, ultimate goal. That goal is winning, in the words of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, a "second civil war" for control of the U.S. government.

The Power of the Sword
At the height of the civil rights movement, in 1965, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, an ambitious young minister in Lynchburg, Va., gave a sermon called "Ministers and Marches."

Falwell laid into Christian leaders who were actively supporting civil rights, reminding them of a Bible verse that fundamentalists often invoked as evidence that God did not want them to participate in politics: "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh" (II Corinthians 10:13).

Fourteen years later, Falwell co-founded the Moral Majority, the first national effort to stimulate fundamentalist political participation and elect candidates who would, in the words of co-founder Paul Weyrich, "Christianize America."

What explained this apparent sea change? While fundamentalist Christians had long stayed out of electoral politics, Falwell and many others were "extremely unhappy with the 'rights' movements that had sprung up in the '50s and '60s," says Didi Herman, author of The Antigay Agenda.

"First black people, then women, now gay people? The frustration had been mounting. Their actions were catching up with their view."

Falwell was plain enough about his views; in 1964, he told a local paper that the Civil Rights Act had been misnamed: "It should be considered civil wrongs rather than civil rights." His "Old Time Gospel Hour" TV program hosted prominent segregationists like Govs. Lester Maddox of Georgia and George Wallace of Alabama.

But Falwell, like other fundamentalists, worried about "tainting" his religious message by mixing it with politics.

The Rev. Mel White (see also A Thorn in Their Side), an evangelical writer and filmmaker who ghostwrote Falwell's autobiography, says Falwell was led to politics in part by Dr. Francis Schaeffer, a rebellious fundamentalist who had begun spreading the word about "dominion theology" and who many see as the father of the anti-abortion movement.

Dubbed the "Guru of Fundamentalists" by Newsweek in 1982, Schaeffer believed that Christians are called to rule the U.S. — and the world — using biblical law. That meant winning elections.

"Dr. Schaeffer," says White, "convinced Jerry there was no biblical mandate against joining with 'nonbelievers' in a political cause."

Schaeffer was admired by a radical group of fundamentalist thinkers called Christian Reconstructionists. Led by Orthodox Presbyterian minister R.J. Rushdoony, the Reconstructionists argued that the Second Coming couldn't occur until the faithful established a "Biblical kingdom."

Democracy, which Rushdoony called "the great love of the failures and cowards of life," would be replaced by strict Old Testament law — meaning the death penalty for homosexuality, along with a host of other "abominations," including heresy, astrology, and (for women only) "unchastity before marriage."

D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries, like James Dobson of Focus on the Family and other Christian Right luminaries, unwaveringly preaches "dominion Christianity" and hosts an annual conference devoted to "Reclaiming America for Christ."

Kennedy also is a longtime benefactor of former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, known for the Ten Commandments monument he installed in the rotunda of that state's judicial building — and for being thrown out of office after refusing to obey federal court orders to remove it.

In 2002, Moore wrote a lengthy concurrence in a custody case involving a lesbian mother. After describing homosexuality as "abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature," Moore asserted that "[t]he State carries the power of the sword, that is, the power to prohibit [homosexual] conduct with physical penalties, such as confinement and even execution. It must use that power to prevent the subversion of children toward this lifestyle."