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07/07/2011

All the views are fit to print? Not in the marriage debate. Not in the MSM. Not yet.

by Jeremy Hooper

In the July 2 edition of the New York Times, reporters Erik Eckholm and Katharine Q. Seelye wrote an article ("New York’s Approval of Same-Sex Marriage Spurs Opponents for New Fights") that NYT-7/2ably summed up the lay of the land in the fight over same-sex marriage, as that fight is largely understood by the American mainstream press and public. The problem, unfortunately, is that this mainstream understanding of the stakes only paints a half-portrait of what is really going on. To fully understand this fight, one must dig deeper.

Let's start with the Family Research Council, billed early on in the 7/2 article as "one of the largest conservative Christian advocacy groups." Not a surprising billing, since this organization does undeniably earn mainstream credence via its cable TV bookings, annual events that play host to GOP leading lights, and religious right support structure. But those of us who closely follow FRC know a very different organization. For instance, there is the DVD that FRC is currently circulating (one for $14.95; a pack of five for $59.95!) which positions gay people as kid-threatening disasters in need of "ex-gay" therapy, complete with cover art that evokes gay-incited nuclear fallout. There are also FRC brochures that directly compare same-sex marriages to those bonds which might exist between a man and a horse, illustrated with an equine photo to drive homeScreen Shot 2011-07-07 At 10.56.26 Am the offensive point (actual brochure pic., at left).

Then there's FRC president Tony Perkins, who has directly likened equality activists to terrorists, called LGBT rights a battle of "good versus evil," accused Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal proponents of being "willing to jeopardize our nation’s security to advance the agenda of the radical homosexual lobby," claimed gay teens kill themselves because they know that they're "abnormal," said the liberal activists who challenge FRC are "held captive by the enemy," and wrote that same-sex marriage will be "opening the door to all manner of moral and social evil. To name just a few of Tony's slights.

Though to really get to the heart of FRC on gay issues, one must turn to Senior Fellow Peter Sprigg. This is a man who told a journalist from Northwestern University’s Medill Reports that he'd "much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than to import them into the United States." Sprigg also once told MSNBC's Chris Matthews that "there would be a place for criminal sanctions against homosexual behavior," and then answered Matthews' direct followup question of "So we should outlaw gay behavior," with a direct "yes," which he rounded out with a smug laugh. Out of all of the above-listed slights, it is most likely Mr. Sprigg who served as the tipping point for the highly selective and respected Southern Poverty Law Center to designate FRC as one of only a handful of official anti-gay hate groups.

Or what about Minnesota, where a marriage amendment will go to referendum in 2012? The 7/2 Times article quotes the executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference as saying "[s]everal local and national groups are starting to coalesce into a campaign in support of the amendment." The national group, primarily, is the National Organization for Marriage, who I will get to in a second. But the local group fighting this fight is the MInnesota Family Council -- an outfit that has, quite truly, contributed more off-base rhetoric than just about any state-level group fighting this fight. For instance, MFC's president, Tom Prichard, wrote in 2010 -- a year when the nation, in general, and Minnesota, in particular, was facing a rash of LGBT teens taking their own lives -- that "gays live in conflict with how they are made," which Prichard cited as the reason for higher rates of suicide among LGBT youth. Before that, on March 5, 2009, Prichard likened "counterfeit" same-sex marriages to the sub-prime mortgage crisis. He's also on record advising Minnesotans to reject gay marriages the way Lincoln rejected slavery. Yes, really.

There's also MFC researcher Barb Anderson, whose pet cause is telling gay teens that they can "change." In a December 2010 interview with Peter LaBarbera (whose Americans For Truth organization is also on the SPLC's hate groups list), Ms. Anderson said of pro-gay curriculum in America's schools: "They call themselves inclusive but they don't include 'ex-gays,' they say they are tolerant but they're not tolerant of 'ex-gays' -- this is a whole message that they do not want heard because then that takes away the myth that they are born that way." Anderson went on to advise gays and their straight supporters that they "are getting on board a train that is leading down a track that is going to be very harmful to them and their friends."

But perhaps the most glaring MFC discovery came this May, when I stumbled on some quite eye-opening claims that the group had made in the legislative handbook it distributes among supporters. In one passage, MFC compared 6A00D8341C503453Ef014E88Dd9667970Dhomosexuality to bestiality, as well as positioned the ingestion of urine and feces as a common homosexual practice. In another part, MFC wrote that "accepting homosexuals as 'normal' victimizes homosexuals themselves." And in yet another part (seen at left), gays were compared to people who practice incest or pedophilia, with notoriously discredited "researcher" Paul Cameron cited as a credible source for these claims. Days after I sent their claims viral -- and while the group was engaged in a legislative battle to get the now-passed constitutional marriage ban before mainstream voters -- MFC quite tellingly yanked the documents from its website. Fortunately I saved copies.

Moving to another state: Mr. Eckholm and Ms. Seelye also focused on North Carolina, giving a benign platform to Return America president Ron Baity to express casual support for a state marriage amendment. Casual, because to get to the heart of Rev. Baity's fight, one really has to listen to some of his church sermons (audio available online) or other statements he's made when New York Times tape recorders were not around. In a 3/01/09 sermon titled "Marriage," Baity said that "contrary to the psychologists today, people are not born homosexuals, before stating that "God will save" gays from their "learned lifestyle[s]." In a 2/15/09 sermon titled "Family," he called gay families "nauseating" and accused equal rights proponents of sowing the "seeds of destruction." In a January 2011 newsletter for his organization, the reverend told his supporters that "[s]ince they cannot produce they must recruit young people to their perverted, warped agenda. One cannot think of anything more nauseating, debased, lewd and immoral than recruiting precious young people into such shameful conduct." And so on and so forth. With Rev. Baity, I could literally fill a whole column with nothing but his condemnatory quips -- quips that, in the usual fashion, show how much beyond marriage his goals really extend. (more here and here)

Another focus of the 7/2 piece was New Hampshire and the fight to overturn that state's legal marriages. For this we get yet another set of measured quips from a local leader, this time Kevin H. Smith, the executive director of Cornerstone Action. CPRCornerstone Action is simply billed as a conservative group. And it's true, CPR is engaged on a number of conservative issues, from healthcare to life issues. But if one goes to the "helpful links" section of CPR's site where supporters are given a whole host of resources to learn about any number of public policy matters, one will learn that the sole suggestion for what CPR labels as "homosexual issues" is for gay people to "change" who they are. CPR gives a total of four links (Love Won Out, NARTH, Exodus International, Parents & Friends of Ex-Gays, seen at left) to this policy point, all of which push so-called "ex-gay" therapy. The very kind of therapy that is shunned by the whole of credible science. The very kind of therapy that goes WAY beyond civil marriage equality.

And then there's the National Organization For Marriage itself, the group that fills up the bulk of both the July 2 piece and the discourse on the anti-equality side of this "culture war." For crucial insight into NOM, one should most fully turn to 6A00D8341C503453Ef014E88832970970DMaggie Gallagher, co-founder and most known spokesperson for America's "protect marriage" movement in general. Speaking to Christian radio host Janet Parshall on Aug. 9, 2010, Maggie (who now serves as NOM chair) told gay people that they "can always control their behavior" -- "behavior" she admitted she considers "unfortunate." Via her nationally syndicated column, Maggie once suggested of President Bush that "ex-gay" therapy deserves more research dollars. In that same venue, she also admitted that she considers homosexuality to be "at a minimum, a sexual dysfunction much as impotence or infertility," and "like infertility...a sexual disability preventing certain individuals from participating in the normal reproductive patterns of the human species." All of which leads one to the only obvious conclusion: That despite her constant talk about "protecting marriage," Maggie's impetus for co-founding NOM was built on much more than simply wedding cakes, bridal registries, marriage licenses, or even religious exemptions. Gay people remain the primary issue.

With Maggie, it's not even just gay people, either. Speaking to her base on Catholic radio back in the summer of 2008, Maggie extended her "unfortunate" labels to straight supporters of marriage equality as well, saying that they, like LGBT people, are "committing several different kinds of very serious sins." Funny, she never says any of that when testifying before Congress or appearing on "PBS News Hour."

The problem is that this stuff rarely gets out in the mainstream press. For whatever reason, we have a team of "culture warriors" who've successfully coated themselves in rhetorical Teflon, allowing them to say just about anything against LGBT people while still maintaining prominent roles within the political commentariat. In any other socio-political debate, the full breadth of the fight tends to get out there, with the public free to weigh the core issues, whatever those might be. But with LGBT conversations, our mainstream media all too often extends a pass -- one that sidesteps the true endgame for pragmatic, carefully media-honed talking points. The end product is a mere surface-scratch -- one that allows the opposition movement to strike right at the the heart of certain people's beings, yet still work the illusion that their fight is limited to certain institutions.

If our goal is to have a truthful debate on the merits, then our press outlets need to start fully identifying the broadness of the anti-equality movement's strokes. We've already done the legwork: Take it. Use it. Give it wings! Because just focusing on the "protect marriage" campaigning but not focusing on its underlying motivations is like noting the color of a wedding cake's decorative frosting yet neglecting to mention the snake oil that was used to bake it. The substance matters.

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