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
By Bob Moser
On Oct. 6, 1998, one day before D. James Kennedy's anti-gay coalition put out a second round of ex-gay TV ads, 21-year-old college student Matthew Shepard was savagely murdered in Wyoming. Journalists jumped on the connection between the ex-gay campaign and the prejudice that fuels hate crimes.
"You call a group of people evil and sick and immoral often enough and some nutcase out there is going to act on it," wrote columnist Donald Kaul in the Des Moines Register.
The Advocate, a gay newsmagazine, pointedly called Shepard "the ultimate ex-gay."
A counter-attack was not long in coming. In an Orlando Sun-Sentinel op-ed, Gary Bauer accused the "militant homosexual lobby" of a "new McCarthyism" with its claims that anti-gay rhetoric leads to violence. Pat Buchanan agreed: "The left is now using Mr. Shepard's murder both to diabolize Christian teachings on homosexuality and to impose on society its own moral code."
The Family Research Council, along with other anti-gay groups, had often cited a similar fear of being demonized as its rationale for opposing hate-crime laws, asserting that hate crimes legislation would lead to "thought crime" prosecutions of Christians. In 1996, sparked by the fact that Hawaii seemed to be close to legalizing gay marriage, a related argument was deployed — the idea that legalization ultimately would lead to hate crimes prosecutions of Christians who opposed homosexuality.
In January of that year, more than 20 anti-gay groups, including Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition, sent representatives to a church cellar in Memphis, Tenn., for the first secret meeting of the National Pro-Family Forum. The Forum, which continued to meet every three months, scored a symbolic victory that fall, when its members convinced Congress to pass the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Writing in support of DOMA, Bauer predicted that gay marriage would have dire consequences for Americans of faith: "If they succeed, all distinctions based on sex may fall, and the worst aspects of the rejected Equal Rights Amendment will be imposed. Homosexuals will gain the 'right' to adopt children; ... churches will be pushed outside civil law; and government power will be wielded against anyone who holds the biblical view of homosexuality."
After the Supreme Court legalized sodomy in 2003, the gay marriage battle was on, with anti-gay crusaders once again sharpening their knives of dire rhetoric.
"Our great nation is under violent attack from within," said Stephen Bennett, Christian singer and ex-gay minister. "We are now at the 11th hour, a point of no return."
"What's at stake here," said Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, "is the very foundation of our society, not only of America but all Western civilization."
"I've never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry," said the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart. "And I'm gonna be blunt and plain: if one ever looks at me like that, I'm gonna kill him and tell God he died."
From the 2003 Texas sodomy decision until Election Day 2004, the gay-marriage debate seemed to bring out the warrior in everyone. The anti-gay campaign, said Human Rights Campaign Executive Director Cheryl Jacques, was marked by "the highest level of intensity and aggression ever."
In the 11 states where anti-gay marriage measures were on the ballot, television ads urged voters to "defend marriage." In Ohio, Phil Burress' anti-gay group gathered 575,000 signatures in fewer than 90 days to put their constitutional amendment on the ballot. "It's a forest fire with a 100-mile-per-hour wind behind it," Burress told The New York Times.
Just five months after Lawrence vs. Texas, the Pew Research Center found that opposition to gay marriage had climbed from 53 to 59%. A new majority of Americans, 55%, now characterized gay sex as a sin. Thirty years of anti-gay crusades had begun to pay.
As Election Day drew near, James Dobson was taking no chances. His political spin-off group, Focus on the Family Action, organized large rallies in six cities last fall, attracting crowds even Anita Bryant couldn't muster. Three weeks before the election, about 150,000 turned out for Dobson's "Mayday for Marriage" rally in Washington, D.C.
On Oct. 22 in Oklahoma City, Dobson brought the crowd to its feet with a message that Bryant might have delivered in 1977. "Homosexuals are not monogamous," he said. "They want to destroy the institution of marriage. It will destroy marriage. It will destroy the earth."
On Nov. 2, the anti-gay marriage amendments passed handily in all 11 states — including Ohio, the state that ultimately swung the election in George W. Bush's favor. Many commentators argued that the huge voter turnout in that pivotal battleground state — and therefore George W. Bush's victory — was due largely to the anti-gay amendment driving conservative voters to the polls in record numbers.
"Just a year ago, justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that same-sex couples have the legal right to marry. George W. Bush is thanking them today," Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi wrote November 4.
The week after the election, Burress called anti-gay leaders together in Washington to start planning for 10 state amendment campaigns in 2005, while other fundamentalist power brokers made it clear to Bush as he prepared for his second term that they expected some return for their considerable investment, including his unwavering support for an amendment to the United States Constitution banning gay marriage nationwide.
"In your re-election, God has graciously granted America — though she doesn't deserve it — a reprieve from paganism," wrote Bob Jones II, President of Bob Jones University, in an open letter of congratulations to President Bush.
"You have been given a mandate. We the people expect your voice to be heard with the clear and certain sound of a trumpet. Undoubtedly you will have the opportunity to appoint many conservative judges and exercise forceful leadership with the Congress in passing legislation that is defined by biblical norms regarding the family and sexuality.
"You have four years to leave an imprint for righteousness upon this nation that brings with it the blessings of Almighty God."