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" Professional " antigays were on their best behavior


THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2004 -- There may be lots to dislike about the right-wing Christian organizations that spent the run-up to yesterday's state constitutional convention cajoling, cornering, and even cowing Massachusetts legislators into taking a stance that would shut out same-sex couples from civil marriage. But when the public show goes on, as it did for nearly 12 hours on Wednesday, the paid professionals in these groups know how to play nice.

At a 9 p.m. press conference staged outside the House of Representatives after legislators had recessed the historic convention -- before taking up the original anti-gay constitutional amendment, which they will address today -- Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, a right-wing group that opposes rights of any kind for gay and lesbian people (you'll find this nugget of wisdom on the FRC web site: "The fact is, however, that the terms "homosexual" and "pedophile" are not mutually exclusive: they describe two intersecting types of sexual attraction."), stood under the thicket of lights, cameras, and microphones. Calm and composed, he expressed a sentiment that opponents of same-sex marriage had put forth repeatedly all day. The convention, Perkins told reporters, stems from the work of "activist judges" on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. He and his colleagues only ask legislators to pass an amendment defining marriage as one man and one woman. "If a legislature takes a pass on that," Perkins observed, "then they're abdicating their own responsibility. They will become the fall guy for the court."

Perkins' 30-second sound bite comes across as anything but anti-gay. After all, who are the bad guys according to him? "Unelected judges," as Perkins said. Not gay and lesbian couples and their families.

Indeed. Opposition leaders like the FRC's Perkins and Ron Crews, the main figurehead of the Coalition for Marriage, did their best yesterday to steer clear of all talk about "the gays." And when the issue of homosexuality did surface, the right-wing Christians had their love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin line down pat. Michael Carl, a Wakefield pastor who has attended opposition rallies organized by the Coalition for Marriage, offered up a typical response to "the homosexuals," when he explained that Christians are "commanded to love homosexuals," not hate them. "God loves those people," he added, "he cries for them when he sees them struggling. It's like, 'Hey, I don't hate you, but I want to show you a better way.'"

Even when thrown the bait, opponents refrained from becoming nasty. At an 11 a.m. press conference organized by the Coalition for Marriage, for example, Genevieve Wood, a FRC spokeswoman, was warning about the national implications of the SJC ruling granting same-sex couples a constitutional right to marry when a Lexington mother of two moved directly behind her and shouted: "This is a question of my civil rights!"

Bonnie Broder, who later told reporters that she is raising two children, ages four and eight, with her same-sex partner of 14 years, continued to yell as Wood gamely ignored her. As the cameras rolled and the tape players recorded, Broder shouted directly to reporters, "I hope you get a different view!" All the while, Wood said, "Gay people have no rights to redefine what the rest of society considers marriage to be."

Finally, Coalition for Marriage spokesman Ray McNulty approached Broder and coaxed her away from the cameras -- allowing Wood to have the last word. But no one engaged her directly.

Of course, all of this took place in front of the media spotlight. But away from the bright lights and hot microphones a slightly uglier scene did emerge. Just as the convention was getting underway, for example, Laurie Letourneau, the oft-quoted spokesperson for Massachusetts Voices for Traditional Marriage, in Worcester, stood outside the House ranting to passersby about the offenses of gay marriage. "I'll be damned," Letourneau exclaimed, "if I'm going to let them" -- i.e., gay men and lesbians -- "tell me I have to accept them in marriage."

It was a taste of the disdain for gay men and lesbians that underlines much of the rhetoric coming from the opposition. But it was only a taste. For as soon as Letourneau realized a Phoenix reporter was recording her every word, she cut the conversation short.

Kristen Lombardi can be reached at klombardi[a]phx.com

Issue Date: February 12, 2004
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