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

Victory and Defeat
To the dismay of the anti-gay crusaders, polls showed rising public support for gay rights throughout the '80s and '90s. As a result, the crusaders began to rethink their message. "They finally started to realize the 'diseased pervert' rhetoric wasn't going to win over the majority of Americans," says Close Encounters with the Religious Right author Rob Boston.

In Colorado Springs, home to more than 50 Christian Right organizations by 1991, a whole new anti-gay strategy was being cooked up by Colorado For Family Values, organizers of Amendment 2, a statewide ballot initiative that would overturn gay anti-discrimination laws that had been passed by three Colorado towns and prevent any such future protections from being passed.

Realizing the old arguments weren't working, one of Amendment 2's organizers, a born-again "ex-hippie" attorney named Tony Marco, produced a fresh argument: "special rights."

"What gives gay militants their enormous power are money and the operative presumption that gays represent some kind of 'oppressed minority,'" Marco wrote. He recommended "demolishing the presumption that gays are an 'oppressed minority.'"

The best way to do that, Marco believed, was to drum up resentment against gay people — particularly among African Americans and working-class whites — by portraying them as wanting "special rights."

In a 1992 issue of Focus on the Family's Citizen magazine, Marco began making an economic case that gay people already had privileges that most Americans could only dream of. "Homosexuals have an average household income of $55,340," he wrote, "versus $32,144 for the general population and $12,166 for disadvantaged African-American households."

Marco's numbers were grossly misleading and, like Cameron's crackpot science, reminiscent of anti-Semitic propaganda about Jews. His source for gay income was a 1988 survey of gay magazine readers — a skewed sample, The Antigay Agenda author Didi Herman notes, because "readers of glossy gay men's magazines are likely to be among the most affluent members of the gay and lesbian community."

Amendment 2 got a major boost in 1991, when James Dobson began to push it on his daily radio show. Dobson had moved his multimedia empire to a campus in Colorado Springs that same year. Known to most Americans as a soft-spoken purveyor of homespun parenting advice, Dobson was now displaying a much tougher side.

In 1990, Focus' Citizen magazine had published a special issue, declaring the '90s "the Civil War Decade." With the fall of Soviet communism, Dobson wrote, the Cold War would be replaced by a "culture war" fought on three fronts: abortion, public education and homosexuality.

"Children are the prize to the winner of this second civil war," wrote Dobson and his Washington lobbyist, the Family Research Council's Gary Bauer, in Children at Risk, also published that same year. "We are to be intolerant of evil," Dobson told his radio audience in 1994. "Romans 12:9 says, 'Learn to be sincere. Hate what is evil'" (Dobson's emphasis).

When Dobson began pushing Amendment 2, its organizers had been struggling to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. Overnight, the campaign was flooded with volunteers and money. Amendment 2 won by a 53%-47% margin.

The anti-gay movement had won a major round — in the court of public opinion, at least. In 1996, Amendment 2 was overturned by the u.s. Supreme Court in Evans v. Romer. Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority decision began with a pointed reference to Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 decision that allowed "separate but equal" treatment of black people and ushered in the Jim Crow era.

The Colorado amendment, Kennedy wrote, imposed a "special disability" on gay men and lesbians, and constituted "a bare ... desire to harm a politically unpopular group."

But by then, the anti-gay movement had been thoroughly energized. In 1994, in what The Washington Times called "two days of top-secret meetings," around 35 state and national anti-gay leaders had convened in Colorado Springs. Bringing "greetings from Dr. Dobson," Focus on the Family's John Eldridge led things off by presenting a five-point plan to spread the anti-gay message.

"We must never appear to be mean-spirited or bigoted," he said. But as he wound up his exhortation, Eldridge sounded a different note. "I would not say this in other cultural contexts," he said, "but the gay agenda has all the elements of that which is evil. It is deceptive at every turn. It is destroying the souls and lives of those who embrace it."

Calling Names
Old-school gay-bashing did not die away with the rise of the "special rights" strategizing. If anything, the rhetoric was ratcheted up in the 1990s, when President Bill Clinton's proposal to lift the ban on gay military service inspired a verbal arms race.

Gary Bauer took the lead, sprinkling his fundraising appeals and Web-site columns with references to gay people as "perverts" and "weirdness on parade." On "The 700 Club," Pat Robertson said Clinton's proposal would give "preferred status to evil."

Jerry Falwell worried aloud that if the ban were lifted, "our poor boys on the front lines will have to face two different enemies, one from the front and one from the rear."

Fundraising appeals became increasingly outrageous. In January 1998, Christian Action Network founder Martin Mawyer wrote:

The title character in the ABC-TV sitcom Ellen came out of the closet ... AND DUMPED HER FILTHY LESBIAN LIFESTYLE RIGHT IN THE CENTER OF YOUR LIVING ROOM!! IT'S THE FIRST TIME IN THE HISTORY OF NETWORK TV THAT THE LEAD CHARACTER IS A SODOMITE!! ... Do you think TV ever portrays homosexuals as they really are? Having sex with hundreds of perverts in 'one-night stands' ... spreading their filthy sex diseases to millions of people ... molesting innocent children ... flaunting their grotesque lifestyle ... committing murder and sex crimes more than any other group of people.

In July 1998, Pat Robertson warned the citizens of Orlando, Fla., that if Disney World didn't cancel "Gay Day," their city would be subject to God's wrath, in the form of "terrorist bombs, earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor."

That same July, D. James Kennedy's Center for Reclaiming America, the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family and other anti-gay groups launched a million-dollar ad campaign to promote "ex-gay" ministries specializing in "curing" lesbians and gay men of their sexual orientation (see Curious Cures).

The ex-gay campaign was partly designed to reinforce the message that fundamentalists truly "love the sinner but hate the sin." Ex-gay people were also an essential part of the "special rights" campaign, their existence cited as proof that homosexuality was not genetic, but a matter of choice.

Most of the ex-gay ministries promoted in the campaign, including Exodus International, practiced "reparative therapy," a collection of methods that had long been thoroughly discredited in the world of psychology.

Still, the ex-gay ads made a splash. John and Anne Paulk, the ex-gay Focus on the Family employees who were featured in the campaign, landed on the cover of Newsweek, which asked, "Gay for Life?" A year later, John Paulk was photographed hurrying out of Mr. P's, a gay bar in Washington, D.C., joining dozens of other ex-gay leaders who had suffered embarrassing relapses.

The board of directors for Exodus International quickly removed Paulk as the group's chairman, despite his protestations that he had "no sinful intentions" in visiting Mr. P's.