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Right angle
As they lead the charge against gay marriage, right-wing Christian groups eschew the hateful rhetoric of the past. Beneath the moderate façade, however, lurks the same old anti-gay agenda.

Veiled truth

OF ALL THE voices on the anti-gay-marriage side, the most heavily quoted are right-wing Christian organizations like the Family Research Council (FRC), the Concerned Women for America (CWA), and Focus on the Family (FOF). Not only have these groups come to Massachusetts to push for an amendment to the state’s constitution barring any legal recognition of same-sex relationships, but they’re also leading the lobbying effort for a similar amendment to the US Constitution. In almost all instances, these organizations are simply described as "conservative." Only occasionally do reporters make plain the groups’ "evangelical" Christian roots. Rarely are their views presented as "extreme" or "right wing." What follows is a sample of how these groups have been characterized over the past few months:

• A Boston Globe story published on February 11 identified the FRC as "a national advocacy group that opposes gay marriage."

• Another February 11 Globe article termed Focus on the Family "a nonprofit family education group with close ties to evangelical Christianity."

• A Globe piece appearing on February 8 referred to "conservative out-of-state organizations, such as Focus on the Family."

• A Globe article on February 6 called the FRC "a conservative group that opposes gay marriage."

• A February 2 Globe article on gay-marriage ad campaigns called FOF "the national conservative Christian organization."

• A January 21 Globe story quoted Tony Perkins of the "conservative Family Research Council."

• A New York Times piece published on January 21 described the FRC as "a leading group of social conservatives."

• Another Times article, appearing on January 15, called Concerned Women of America "one of the largest conservative Christian advocacy groups."

• In a November 21 article, the Boston Herald made reference to the "conservative Family Research Council in Washington, DC."

— Megan Harrington and Kristen Lombardi

AT LAST WEEK’S constitutional convention, a pair of images — the camera-lit faces of Arline Isaacson and Tony Perkins — defined the debate over an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage. After each new development — a moving speech by a state representative, a vote defeating anti-gay language, a strategy to filibuster the convention — a scrum of reporters and cameramen would flock to Isaacson, the co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, to hear her reiterate that legislators must not take away "our marriage rights." Then the media gaggle would hustle over to Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council (FRC), a right-wing group that opposes rights of any kind for gay and lesbian people, who called on legislators to counter "judicial tyranny" and allow the people to vote on the issue.

This dichotomy comes as no surprise, given the media’s penchant to balance reports by presenting the loudest, most visible voices on "both sides" of an issue. But quoting Perkins on the nuances of same-sex marriage is like quoting the Ku Klux Klan on affirmative action or Operation Rescue on abortion. Just as white supremacists and radical abortion foes deny the harsh realities that black people and women can face — realities that often bolster the arguments for affirmative action and abortion — Perkins doesn’t even believe that inborn homosexuality exists. According to the FRC, the notion that people are born homosexual is nothing but "a myth."

But Perkins and his fellow leaders from the FRC — along with staff members from other right-wing Christian organizations driving the Massachusetts-based Coalition for Marriage, including Concerned Women for America (CWA) and Focus on the Family (FOF) — don’t traffic in the hateful rhetoric of some people who share their views. People like Fred Phelps, the Topeka, Kansas, minister who showed up at the 1998 funeral of Matthew Shepard with a god hates fags poster. Instead, says Nikhil Aziz, the research director at Policy Research Associates (PRA), a Somerville think tank that tracks the Christian-right movement, the FRC, CWA, and FOF like to present themselves as "loving" toward gay men and lesbians. "It’s all about saving the souls of gay people and being compassionate," he explains. "They are careful to sound moderate and reasonable."

And they’re consistently portrayed that way in the mainstream press. From the Boston Globe to the New York Times, these radical-leaning, evangelical Christian groups are often described as "national advocacy groups that oppose gay marriage," "social conservatives," or "conservative out-of-state organizations" (see "Veiled Truth," this page). Yet these descriptions are an insult to conservatives. After all, not all conservatives oppose gay marriage. And not all those who do oppose gay marriage are homophobic — as the leaders of the FRC, CWA, and FOF most certainly are.

LAST OCTOBER, George W. Bush issued an official proclamation in support of the nation’s first-ever Marriage Protection Week, declaring that the event "provides an opportunity to focus our efforts on preserving the sanctity of marriage and on building strong and healthy marriages in America." Sponsored by 29 Christian-right organizations, including the FRC, CWA, and FOF, Marriage Protection Week took place from October 12 through 18. The unprecedented "scope and magnitude" of the effort prompted the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), a New York–based gay-rights group that pays particular attention to right-wing opposition to homosexuality, to research how many of the week’s activities actually did focus on protecting marriage.

The result is a nine-page report, titled "‘Marriage Protection Week’ Sponsors: Are They Really Interested in ‘Building Strong and Healthy Marriages?’" (available online at www.ngltf.org/downloads/MarriageProtectionWeek.pdf). The report found that the 29 sponsors, including the FRC, CWA, and FOF, focus disproportionately on homosexuality rather than on key issues directly related to marriage, such as divorce, poverty, domestic violence, and child support. And it concluded that the point of this high-profile week was solely to oppose the efforts of same-sex couples to marry.

According to the report, the week’s activities featured a flood of information focusing "exclusively on the alleged and unsubstantiated threat of gay marriage." At a kickoff rally on October 12, participating pastors were asked to recite model sermons that described homosexuality as "an inverted, perverted love" and "mere self-centered sensual enjoyment of the sexual faculties." Participants received fact sheets attacking not just gay marriage, but also civil unions. Finally, they were urged in "take action" bulletins to contact their US congressmen and "demand that they support the Federal Marriage Amendment" barring any legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

The report also includes a "content analysis" of the Web sites of such Marriage Protection Week sponsors as the FRC, CWA, and FOF. On its site, for instance, the FRC offers a total of 203 documents containing the word "homosexual," as opposed to only 37 on poverty, 26 on domestic violence, and two on child support. The CWA trumps the FRC by posting nearly three times as many essays and studies on homosexuality: 602. Yet the CWA posts only 80 on poverty and a mere 19 on domestic violence (a telling number given that this remains one of the top concerns for women, according to a June 2003 survey by Princeton Research Associates). Still, neither comes close to the FOF. This Christian-right behemoth mentions the word "homosexual" in up to 740 documents on its site. "Poverty," however, appears in just 212.

All told, the 29 MPW sponsors post 2369 documents on homosexuality on their sites, while devoting less than half that number, or 1432, to the gravest threat to marriage — divorce. Says the NGLTF’s Jason Cianciotto, who helped write the policy brief, "These groups are focusing on homosexuality under the cover of being pro-family and pro-marriage."

In fact, they’re pushing an agenda that extends far beyond opposition to civil-marriage rights for same-sex couples. "The policies they advocate," says the PRA’s Aziz, "are fundamentally anti-gay. They undercut full equality for gay and lesbian people."

For starters, Aziz points out, the FRC, CWA, and FOF — as well as the high-profile Massachusetts Family Institute, an FOF affiliate — deny that people are born gay; therefore, they reject any kind of protection for homosexuals. That means they oppose all laws banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. They oppose any form of legal recognition for same-sex couples, including civil unions and domestic-partnership benefits. They even find fault with safe-school programs for gay high-school students and gay-straight alliances. In short, their policies aim to derail the civil-rights movement for gay men and lesbians. Says Aziz, "They are blatantly anti-gay. No question about it."

Last fall, for example, the CWA posted an article on its Web site describing a gay couple who had recently married in Canada and were crossing the border into the US as "the latest pair of ‘domestic terrorists.’" The September 24, 2003, article says: "This latest story is only a small part of the larger effort by many radical activist groups to force their harmful homosexual-marriage agenda on the United States." In other words, gay couples who wish to marry are just as dangerous to everyday Americans as Osama bin Laden.

The Christian right also likes to paint all gay men as menacing pedophiles. On its Web site, the FRC posts "talking points" on the connection between homosexuality and pedophilia. According to the primer, this so-called connection rests on the fact that "by definition, male homosexuals are sexually attracted to other males"; since most pedophiles are male and "approximately one-third" of victims are male, it follows that a "disproportionate number" of gay men are pedophiles. (The document ignores the painfully obvious corollary that, since male heterosexuals are "by definition" sexually attracted to females and two-thirds of pedophile victims are female, heterosexual males make up the overwhelming majority of perpetrators.) The site also includes this nugget of wisdom: "The fact is ... that the terms ‘homosexual’ and ‘pedophile’ are not mutually exclusive: they describe two intersecting types of sexual attraction."

Another insidious notion propagated by these groups is that parenting by two gay fathers or two lesbian mothers puts children at greater risk for abuse. The FOF asserted as much when it published a full-page ad in the January 23 Globe, which condemned same-sex marriage as "a massive, untested, social experiment with coming generations of children." The ad listed a litany of detrimental effects on kids that "conclusive social science data collected over the past 40 years" had linked to same-sex parenting — from low self-esteem to "higher danger of physical abuse." Only after checking the fine print did the ad’s distortions become apparent. According to the footnotes, much of the data cited in the FOF ad came from studies on single-mother households — not two-parent, same-sex households. Such ugly rhetoric also ignores the fact that, in February 2002, the American Association of Pediatrics issued a policy statement recognizing "evidence that children with parents who are homosexual can have the same advantages and expectations ... as can children whose parents are heterosexual." Ads like this, Aziz notes, "are favorites of the Christian right. They play to people’s latent fears and biases against gay people."

Not surprisingly, the fact that the FOF and fellow right-wingers can get away with airing such charges against gay men and lesbians amazes many gay-rights activists. The NGLTF’s Cianciotto sums up the sentiment best: "These groups lie all the time. Yet we’re continually surprised at how benignly they’re portrayed."

Indeed, that major newspapers like the Boston Globe are willing to run these ads shows just how much mainstream credibility these radical groups have. In 2001, the Globe refused to run an advertisement from the environmental group Forest Ethics because it contained broad, unsubstantiated charges. Yet the paper didn’t reject the FOF ad, which was rife with untruths about homosexuality. The reason for this apparent discrepancy remains unknown, since Maynard Scarborough, the Globe’s spokesperson, did not return two phone calls from the Phoenix seeking comment.

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Issue Date: February 20 - 26, 2004
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