Colorado's Right-Wing Attack on Homosexualsby Jean Hardisty
From The Public Eye Magazine, March 1993
An eerie unease hangs in the air in Colorado. For lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals, nagging questions pervade everyday life: did the kindly person who just gave me her parking place vote for Amendment 2? Did my landlord vote for the amendment, knowing that I am gay? Will gay rights be pushed back to the days before Stonewall? Who or what is behind this hate?
Amendment 2 is a ballot initiative that seeks to amend the Colorado Constitution. The amendment was passed by a majority of Colorado voters in November 1992, and was to take effect on January 15, 1993. The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal Defense Fund, the cities of Boulder, Aspen, and Denver, and individual plaintiffs joined forces under the leadership of attorney Jean Dubofsky, a former Colorado Supreme Judicial Court judge, and filed a motion in Denver District Court seeking to enjoin the governor and state of Colorado from enforcing Amendment 2. On January 15, 1993, Judge Jeffrey Bayless granted a preliminary injunction, giving the plaintiffs the first victory in a legal struggle over the constitutionality of Amendment 2. That injunction was later made permanent, but was then appealed to the US Supreme Court.
Amendment 2 reads as follows:
Historical Background to Colorado's Amendment 2
The gay rights movement in the US is often traced to June 27, 1969, in New York City, when police raided a Greenwich Village bar, the Stonewall Inn, and bar patrons rebelled in protest. Seven years later, in 1976, in Dade County, Florida, Anita Bryant led the first religious campaign against gay rights. Bryant's campaign (run by Bryant, her husband Bob Green, and a political operative named Ed Rowe, who went on to head the Church League of America briefly and later Christian Mandate) was in opposition to a vote by the Dade County commissioners to prohibit discrimination against gay men and lesbians in housing, public accommodation, and employment. Bryant promoted a successful referendum to repeal the commissioners' vote, and her campaign gained strength and notoriety.
In 1977, Anita Bryant inspired a similar campaign in California, where State Senator John Briggs, who had worked with Bryant in Miami, sponsored the "California Defend Our Children Initiative," a binding initiative on the general election ballot in November 1978. The initiative provided for charges against school teachers and others advocating, encouraging, or publicly and "indiscreetly" engaging in homosexuality. It prohibited the hiring and required the firing of homosexuals if the school board deemed them unfit. This was in reaction to a 1975 California law preventing local school boards from firing teachers for homosexuality. California Defend Our Children, the organizing group supporting the initiative, was chaired by State Senator John Briggs. Rev. Louis Sheldon, now head of the Anaheim-based organization Traditional Values, was executive director. The initiative failed, but Rev. Louis Sheldon would remain extremely active in anti-homosexual organizing. That same year, David A. Noebel, later to head Summit Ministries of Colorado, published The Homosexual Revolution, which he dedicated to Anita Bryant.
Bryant's anti-homosexual campaign ended in 1979 with the collapse of her two organizations, Anita Bryant Ministries and Protect America's Children, which were hampered by a lack of political sophistication. Contemporary techniques in influencing the political system--direct mail, computer technology, religious television ministries--were not available to Bryant. Although US history is dotted with right-wing movements led by preachers (such as Father Charles Coughlin, who used radio to enormous effect), at that time few religious fundamentalists and evangelicals were interested in the political sphere. Bryant herself was plagued by personal problems, such as divorce, and her organizations were unable to respond effectively to a boycott mounted against Florida's orange industry, for which Bryant was a major spokesperson. Her organizations collapsed because they were unable to expand their base through direct mail and fundraising, to use the media to build that base, or to use the political system for their own religious ends. With the creation of the New Right at the end of the 1970s, a political movement was born that incorporated conservative fundamentalists and evangelicals as full partners. Now there were tremendous political resources available to the Religious Right, and the success and influence of religious fundamentalists in the spheres of public policy and popular opinion improved dramatically.
Under the benign influence of the Reagan Administration, the New Right and its Religious Right component flourished. Several major leaders emerged, their individual fortunes rising and falling, but their collective political clout reaching into new spheres of influence, especially the political sphere. A focus of attention that emerged with the advent of the New Right was a rollback of gains made by the gay rights movement.
The Second Right-Wing Anti-Homosexual Campaign
The "second" anti-homosexual campaign, born within the New Right in the early 1980s, has been a far more sophisticated one. It has been planned at the national level, carried out by at least 15 large national organizations using the most refined computer technology, showing an understanding of the political system, and therefore exerting influence only dreamed of by the first movement.
The effects of this new sophistication are:
The Anti-Homosexual Campaign of the Early 1980s
The opening of the second anti-homosexual campaign can be traced to three events:
Enrique Rueda's massive book, The Homosexual Network, is a thorough examination of the organizations, activities, and ideology of the gay rights movement. The book does not discuss AIDS, and much of its critique of homosexual organizations is directed at their liberalism. Rueda, a native of Cuba and a Catholic theologian, is also interested in the moral dimension of homosexuality and its offense against the church.
In 1987, the Free Congress Foundation, which had sponsored Rueda's book, developed a new condensation that updated the critique of homosexuality to include the AIDS crisis. This book, Gays, AIDS and You, by Michael Schwartz and Enrique Rueda, stands as a seminal work in the right's analysis of homosexuality in the context of the AIDS crisis. A quote from the introduction illustrates the significance of this book to an understanding of Colorado's Amendment 2:
It is significant that Rueda wrote his two important critiques of the gay rights movement at the suggestion of, and under the sponsorship of, Paul Weyrich and the Free Congress Foundation, which Weyrich directs. FCF's early and important work on the issue of homosexuality foreshadowed a national campaign to highlight homosexuality as a threat to the well-being of Americans.
Paul Weyrich is a founder and central leader of the New Right. He was more astute than many in the New Right in his early appreciation of the potential of anti-gay themes in building the success of the New Right. But he was not alone in understanding the appeal of this issue in right-wing organizing. As early as 1978, Tim LaHaye, "family counselor," husband of Beverly LaHaye (head of Concerned Women for America), and prominent leader in both the pro-family and Religious Right components of the New Right, wrote The Unhappy Gays (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1978).
In 1983, Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority sent out at least three mailings that highlighted the threats of homosexuality and AIDS.
In a similar vein, Robert G. Grant's organization, Christian Voice, used the threat of homosexuality as a major theme in a fundraising letter that began, "I am rushing you this urgent letter because the children in your neighborhood are in danger."
Phyllis Schlafly, head of Eagle Forum and grande dame of the pro-family movement, made heavy use of the accusation of lesbianism in her early 1980s attacks on Equal Rights Amendment organizers. She argued that the ERA would promote gay rights, leading, for example, to the legitimization of same-sex marriages, the protection of gay and lesbian rights in the military, the protection of the rights of persons with AIDS, and the voiding of sodomy laws.
Dr. Paul Cameron is a tireless anti-gay activist who has played an important roll in encouraging punitive measures against people with AIDS. In 1983, the American Psychological Association dropped Cameron from its membership rolls "for a violation of the Preamble to the Ethical Principles of Psychologists." Despite being discredited by reputable social scientists, Cameron has served as an "expert" on homosexuality at numerous right-wing and Religious Right conferences, and was hired as a consultant on AIDS by California Assemblyman William Dannemeyer.
As the 1980s unfolded and the New Right achieved substantial gains on economic, military, and foreign policy issues, its Religious Right and pro-family sectors devoted their most passionate organizing to the anti-abortion crusade, where there were significant successes. The campaign against homosexuality was not a major focus in the mid-1980s, though it was never repudiated as a goal of right-wing organizing. A shared alarm and loathing over the gains of the gay rights movement was understood within the New Right.
The Current Anti-Homosexual Campaign
In the late 1980s, three issues reinvigorated the New Right's anti-homosexual activism and focused added attention at the national level. The first issue was the promotion of school curriculum reform to reflect a greater acceptance of gay men and lesbians (e.g., Project 10 in southern California). The second was the religious and political right's objection to public funding for homoerotic art. The third issue was the passage of gay rights ordinances, bills, and initiatives in the local sphere and in state legislatures. According to People for the American Way, 19 states and more than 100 cities and counties now have laws or executive orders protecting gay and lesbian rights.
It is commonly thought that the local responses to each of these three gay rights issues are grassroots efforts, mounted by outraged citizens stirred to action by local manifestations of "gay power." In fact, while local anti-homosexual groups did and do exist, their power and effectiveness is enormously enhanced by the technical assistance provided by national New Right organizations.
Colorado provides a case study of the effective involvement of national right-wing groups at the local level. Colorado for Family Values (CFV), the local group that sponsored Amendment 2, was founded by Coloradans Kevin Tebedo and Tony Marco, and is headed by Colorado Springs car dealer Will Perkins. It promotes itself as a grassroots group, but its tactics, success, and power are largely the result of support from a national anti-homosexual campaign mounted by the New Right. Five of the national organizations active in this campaign are represented on the executive and advisory boards of CFV: Focus on the Family, Summit Ministries, Concerned Women for America, Eagle Forum, and Traditional Values. Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition is not officially represented on the board of CFV, but has a strong presence in Colorado and is ubiquitous in anti-homosexual organizing nationally. Many other New Right and "old right" organizations are climbing on the anti-homosexual bandwagon as the issue becomes more prominent.
Colorado for Family Values has maintained adamantly that its strategy was not coordinated by national religious or political groups. However, according to People for the American Way, a Washington, DC, organization that monitors the right wing, "the Religious Right's anti-gay vendetta is not, as its leaders often claim, a spontaneous outpouring of concern about gay issues. Theirs is a carefully orchestrated political effort, with a unified set of messages and tactics, that is deliberately designed to foster division and intolerance." A review of the national organizations involved with Colorado's Amendment 2 will support this analysis.
Key Homophobic Groups Active in Colorado
Traditional Values (often called the Traditional Values Coalition) is headed by Rev. Louis Sheldon and is based in Anaheim, California. Rev. Sheldon and his organization have taken leadership within the Religious Right's anti-homosexual campaign. In October 1989, Rev. Sheldon led the "West Coast Symposium on Homosexuality and Public Policy Implications" in Orange County, California. Two of the featured speakers were Roger Magnuson, Esq., author of Are Gay Rights Right?, and Congressman William Dannemeyer, author of Shadow in the Land: Homosexuality in America.
Building on the success of the west coast symposium, Rev. Sheldon convened a January 1990 conference in Washington, DC, that was billed as a "national summit meeting on homosexuality." One of the two dominant themes of the conference was that homosexuals have, since the 1960s, been seeking "special protection over and above the equal rights already given to all Americans." This theme would later appear in Colorado as the central theme of the Colorado for Family Values' promotion of Amendment 2.
Rev. Louis Sheldon was an aide to Pat Robertson in 1987, and he shares much of Robertson's interest in the legal codification of moral issues. In 1988, Sheldon led the opposition to Project 10, a counseling program for gay adolescents in the Los Angeles school system. In 1986 and 1988, his zeal against homosexuals led him to endorse the California anti-homosexual initiatives sponsored by far right extremist Lyndon LaRouche. The initiatives sought, in effect, to require quarantine for people with AIDS. Sheldon himself has advocated establishing "cities of refuge" for people with the HIV infection. In 1991, Sheldon submitted to the California attorney general a constitutional amendment that would bar civil rights laws from protecting homosexuals, unless approved by a two-thirds vote of the California voters. Sheldon has recently announced his intention to pursue in California an initiative modeled on Colorado's Amendment 2.
Barbara Sheldon, chairwoman of the Traditional Values Coalition of Colorado, is on the executive board of Colorado for Family Values. She is not related to Rev. Sheldon.
It is widely agreed that the 1991 arrival in Colorado Springs of Dr. James Dobson and his organization, Focus on the Family, was an important catalyst for Colorado Springs' local anti-homosexual organization, Colorado for Family Values. CFV had already led a successful campaign against a local gay rights ordinance. Focus on the Family, however, brought to Colorado Springs a tremendous influx of resources and sophisticated political experience: it arrived with 750 employees (and has since added another 300) and an annual budget of nearly $70 million, including a $4 million grant from the El Pomar Foundation to buy 50 acres in Colorado Springs. Focus on the Family is indeed a national organization. While it has no official ties to CFV, it has offered "advice" to CFV, and several Focus on the Family employees, such as public policy representative Randy Hicks, sit on CFV advisory boards. Focus on the Family has given an in-kind donation worth $8,000 to Colorado for Family Values.
Dr. Dobson's background is in pediatrics and he is best known as an advocate of traditional discipline and corporal punishment for children. However, his organization has also been heavily involved in anti-homosexual organizing. In 1988, Focus on the Family merged with the Washington, DC-based Family Research Council, headed by Gary L. Bauer. The Family Research Council distributed a "homosexual packet," available through Focus on the Family, which contained the lengthy document, The Homosexual Agenda: Changing Your Community and Nation. This detailed guide includes a section titled "Starting An Initiative." In October 1992, the Family Research Council separated from Focus on the Family after warnings from the Internal Revenue Service that the Council's lobbying activities were endangering Focus on the Family's tax-exempt status.
In keeping with the Family Research Council's anti-gay organizing, Focus on the Family's newsletters have shown an increase in anti-gay articles over the last several years. For instance, in the May 1990 Focus on the Family newsletter, Dr. Dobson himself began a column with the statement, "I am familiar with the widespread effort to redefine the family. It is motivated by homosexual activists and others who see the traditional family as a barrier to the social engineering they hope to accomplish." A March 1991 article in the newsletter uses this argument against treating gays equally: "There are people in our society who find sexual satisfaction from engaging in intercourse with animals. . . .Would anyone suggest that these groups deserve special protection?"
Summit Ministries of Manitou Springs, Colorado, is a little-known Religious Right organization whose work is national in scope. It is a 30-year-old Christian organization specializing in educational materials and summer youth retreats. Its president is Rev. David A. Noebel, formerly a prominent preacher in Rev. Billy James Hargis's Christian Crusade. As early as 1977, Noebel authored The Homosexual Revolution, in which he claims that "homosexuality rapidly is becoming one of America's most serious social problems." He has also written several books claiming that rock'n'roll and soul music are communist plots to corrupt US youth. Summit Ministries later published AIDS: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome: A Special Report, co-authored by David Noebel, Wayne C. Lutton, and Paul Cameron. For the last several years, virtually every issue of The Journal, Summit Ministries' monthly newsletter, has contained several anti-homosexual entries. Summit Ministries has just published Noebel's new book, Understanding the Times: The Story of the Biblical Christian, Marxist/Leninist and Secular Humanist Worldviews.
Noebel's background with Rev. Billy James Hargis's Christian Crusade helps to explain the historical friendly relationship between Summit Ministries and the John Birch Society (JBS). Both the Christian Crusade and the John Birch Society represent a political sector known in political science literature as the "old right." Born out of the conviction that communism was rampant in the United States, both organizations believed that the civil rights movement was manipulated by communists, that the National Council of Churches promoted communism, and that the United Nations was controlled by communists. In 1962, Rev. Billy James Hargis purchased an old resort hotel in Manitou Springs, which was renamed The Summit. The Summit became a retreat and anti-communism summer college.
Summit's relationship with the John Birch Society is deeper than mere ideological affinity. In fact, in 1983, a donor responding to a John Birch Society fundraising letter sent a check to Robert Welch of JBS, and received a thank-you letter from Welch. The check, however, was made out to Summit Ministries.
Rev. David Noebel was a member of the John Birch Society until at least 1987, and for many years Summit Ministries took out full-page advertisements for its summer youth retreats in Review of the News and American Opinion, two John Birch Society publications.
Summit Ministries is also politically close to Dr. James Dobson and Focus on the Family. Dr. Dobson, especially since moving to Colorado, leads seminars at Summit Ministries, and his endorsement of Summit's work was prominent in Summit's material promoting its 30th anniversary. David Noebel is on the advisory board of Colorado for Family Values.
Touting itself as the largest women's organization in America, Concerned Women for America claims a membership of 500,000, a number disputed by many. CWA was founded in 1979 as "the Christian women's answer to the National Organization for Women." It is based in Washington, DC, and organizes its member chapters through prayer circles and LaHaye's monthly newsletter. CWA distributes a pamphlet titled The Hidden Homosexual Agenda that condemns the homosexual agenda for seeking "to take away the right of those who believe that homosexuality is wrong and immoral to voice that opinion."
CWA's most recent anti-homosexual pamphlet is The Homosexual Deception: Making Sin A Civil Right. It is a reprint of a treatise by Tony Marco, co-founder of Colorado for Family Values, that CFV filed with the state of Colorado as evidence supporting the correctness of Amendment 2. Here, to give a local activist his due, we see the local group creating material that is then used by a national group--a reversal of the usual pattern. Concerned Women for America is represented on the CFV advisory board by the president of its Colorado chapter, Bert Nelson.
Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum
Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, based in Alton, Illinois, is another national organization whose local affiliate is represented on the advisory board of Colorado for Family Values. Phyllis Schlafly is perhaps best known for her successful campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment. During that campaign, she used the threat of homosexual and lesbian privileges as a central argument to support her opposition to the ERA. Eagle Forum continues to oppose gay and lesbian rights.
Other National Groups Prominent in the Anti-Homosexual Campaign
Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition
Rev. Pat Robertson, longtime host of the cable television program "The 700 Club," and prominent leader of the Religious Right, ran unsuccessfully in the Republican presidential primary in 1988. In October 1989, Robertson used the 1.9 million names he had collected from his 1988 campaign to identify 175,000 key activists and donors, and launch the Christian Coalition. The new Coalition's stated goal was "to build the most powerful political force in American politics."
The 175,000 activists were contacted and urged to establish chapters of the Christian Coalition in their precincts. Five goals were identified:
Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation was an early endorser of the Christian Coalition.
The Christian Coalition's training tapes teach activists to fight those forces pursuing "an agenda of chaos." An early videotape distributed by the Christian Coalition used homosexual scenes to illustrate the moral decline of America; opposition to homosexuality has always been a commitment of the Christian Coalition. However, it was the 1990 political battle over a gay rights initiative in Broward County, Florida, that moved the anti-homosexual agenda to prominence within the organization. In its literature, the Christian Coalition took credit for "spearheading" the defeat. It claims to have "led the charge and won a major political victory." Robertson calls on Christian Coalition members to "duplicate this success in your city and state and throughout the nation."
By 1992, the organization had grown dramatically. Ralph Reed, its executive director, claimed 250,000 members in 49 states and $13 million in the bank. The Christian Coalition launched an election year get-out-the-vote effort which included "in-pew" registration at churches, the distribution of up to 40 million "voter guides," and the use of computer-assisted telephone banks to help elect favored candidates in key races.
Reed's tactics are self-confessedly surreptitious. "I want to be invisible," he told one reporter. "I do guerrilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag. You don't know until election night." Despite this statement, Reed later publicly distanced himself from the "stealth" strategy.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Coalition overwhelmingly has targeted local Republican Party precinct and county organizations for takeover. It works closely with Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation, which was founded in 1974 with money from the Coors family and its foundation. County Christian Coalition chapters have been directed to subscribe to Weyrich's National Empowerment Television (NET) satellite program. Ralph Reed is on the NET board.
Colorado for Family Values is not an affiliate of, nor is it funded by, the Christian Coalition (unlike the group that led the anti-homosexual initiative campaign in Oregon, the Oregon Citizens Alliance); the link between the Christian Coalition and Colorado's Amendment 2 is an indirect one. The National Legal Foundation of Chesapeake, Virginia (a conservative Christian legal organization founded by Pat Robertson and funded by Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, but no longer affiliated with Robertson), gave advice to Colorado for Family Values as early as 1991, long before Amendment 2 was on the ballot. The consultation was intended to help CFV formulate ballot language that would survive legal and political challenges. By the end of 1992, the National Legal Foundation had taken over much of the legal work of CFV.
The Berean League
The Berean League, based in St. Paul, Minnesota, has published Roger J. Magnuson's much-cited book Are Gay Rights Right? This discredited work was used by Tony Marco in the treatise he wrote for Colorado for Family Values. In addition to publishing Magnuson's book, the Berean League developed a successful campaign to oppose a local civil rights ordinance for gay men and lesbians. On the basis of that success, it began to conduct workshops at national conferences on "Strategies for Defeating Homosexual Privilege Proposals."
A Christian organization, the Berean League states in its promotional literature that "the League's authority is Scripture." Recently, it has issued a "Back-grounder" report titled Some Things You May Not Know About Homosexuality. An inflammatory three-page document, it was circulated in Oregon as a tool to organize support for Oregon's 1992 anti-homosexual Measure 9, the Abnormal Behavior Initiative.
The American Family Association
Headed by Rev. Donald Wildmon and based in Tupelo, Mississippi, the American Family Association has an annual budget of $5 million, and focuses primarily on profanity, adultery, homosexuality, and other forms of anti-Christian behavior and language on television. An earlier Wildmon organization was called CLeaR-TV (Christian Leaders for Responsible Television) and was based in Wheaton, Illinois. Wildmon has specialized in boycotting the corporate sponsors of shows which he dislikes. He called for a boycott of American Express because it sponsored the television program "L. A. Law," which ran an episode featuring a bisexual woman kissing another woman. Wildmon opposes even the depiction of homosexuality. One of his "top goals" for 1989 was to force off the air three TV shows ("Heartbeat," "Hooperman," and "thirtysomething") that, he said, "promote the homosexual lifestyle and portray practicing homosexuals in a positive light." Wildmon was accused of anti-Semitism for inflammatory comments he made during his campaign against the film The Last Temptation of Christ.
The Rutherford Institute
The Rutherford Institute, based in Manassas, Virginia, and founded and headed by John W. Whitehead, is a non-profit, legal defense organization associated with the far-right fringe of the Religious Right. Speakers listed in its Speakers Bureau include R. J. Rushdoony, a prominent Christian Reconstructionist. Reconstructionists believe that the text of the Bible provides the only legitimate basis for civil law. The most zealous wing of Reconstructionism has called for the death penalty for homosexuals, adulterers, and recalcitrant children. In 1992, the Rutherford Institute spearheaded a suit in Hawaii to block implementation of that state's new gay rights law.
The John Birch Society
The John Birch Society is another national organization with a prominent anti-homosexual agenda. JBS is not properly categorized as a New Right organization, but is best seen as "old right." Historically, the John Birch Society has existed as an isolationist, anti-communist organization. It was founded near the end of the McCarthy era, and expanded on Senator Joseph McCarthy's conspiracy theory of communist penetration of the United States. Since the death of its founder, Robert Welch, the JBS has moved from Belmont, Massachusetts, to Appleton, Wisconsin. Its recent concerns have been family issues, AIDS, US internationalist foreign policy, opposition to government regulations, and the right to bear arms. High on its list of concerns within family issues is homosexuality. The September and October 1992 issues of its publication, New American (published immediately before the November votes on anti-gay initiatives in Colorado and Oregon), carried anti-homosexual stories. The October story was a two-page article supporting Oregon's Abnormal Behavior Initiative.
Lyndon LaRouche: A Special Case
Lyndon LaRouche is a far-right political extremist who is now serving a 15-year sentence in federal prison for mail fraud and tax evasion. LaRouche runs a vast empire of organizations with ideological positions that exactly mimic his bizarre conspiracy theories. His followers are seen in airports and on street corners, often campaigning to free LaRouche from jail or attacking the organization's mortal enemy--Henry Kissinger. LaRouche's many organizations have always incorporated sexual themes into their analysis, and have been obsessed with AIDS since the pandemic began. LaRouche has conducted a long-running and fanatical campaign against homosexuality. Most recently, LaRouche spearheaded Proposition 64 in California, which would have established restrictive public health policies regarding AIDS. Proposition 64 was opposed by virtually all public health officials and elected officials (one exception was legislator William Dannemeyer). A public health specialist for the California Medical Association described Proposition 64 as "absolute hysteria and calculated deception." LaRouche organizers continue to peddle hysteria over AIDS and homosexuality. Their embrace of anti-Jewish and other scapegoating conspiracy theories and use of demagoguery add a firm base to the claim that the LaRouchians are a neo-fascist movement. Many New Right groups avoid any official alliance with the LaRouchians.
Analyzing the Anti-Homosexual Campaign's Coordination & Networking
Since its earliest days in the late 1970s, the New Right has been a political and religious movement that has self-consciously networked among its members. The Religious Roundtable, the Free Congress Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, Christian Voice, the Conservative Caucus, the Moral Majority, Eagle Forum, and Concerned Women for America, among others, have held frequent conferences, published in each other's journals and newsletters, and promoted legislation within the context of a sympathetic Republican administration.
The anti-homosexual campaign nests within a sector of the New Right known as the pro-family movement. The major national gathering for the pro-family movement is the Family Forum conference, held annually since 1981. The conference has usually been sponsored by Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation and Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority. These conferences are symptomatic of the coordination and networking among the New Right leadership. The issues of concern to the pro-family movement are aptly described in a 1984 promotional letter for Family Forum III. They are "important moral issues such as: the economic survival of the family, parents' rights in education, the homosexual movement, personal charity, child pornography, and abortion."
Reflecting the New Right leadership's shared opposition to homosexuality, the Family Forum conferences nearly always feature an anti-homosexual speaker. With the arrival of the AIDS epidemic, and the publication of Gays, AIDS and You, sponsored by the Free Congress Foundation, the anti-homosexual profile became much higher. We see the fruits of a decade of organizing by the pro-family movement of the New Right in the many challenges to gay rights bills and initiatives, and most recently in the anti-gay initiatives in Colorado and Oregon.
The analysis underlying the pro-family movement's morality is a fervent distrust and irrational hatred of "secular humanism," which is used as a shorthand for all that is evil and opposed to God. This distrust of secular humanism can be traced to the US nativist right at the turn of the century, which believed secular humanists were engaged in a conspiracy to undermine the United States. The purported conspiracy was linked, from its beginning, to an extreme fear of communism and its undermining effect on Christianity and the Christian family. Today, a major focus of the New Right, and particularly of the pro-family movement, is unrelenting opposition to the perceived secular humanist conspiracy. As Paul Weyrich describes it, "Well, first of all, from our point of view, this is really the most significant battle of the age-old conflict between good and evil, between the forces of God and the forces against God, that we have seen in our country."
For a better understanding of how fear of secular humanism serves as the theoretical basis for right-wing organizing, see the Berlet/Quigley chapter on the Culture War: Theocracy and Racism.
Camouflage of the Christian Agenda
In the discussion above, three of the four national New Right organizations playing the highest profile role in organizing support for Colorado's Amendment 2 are explicitly Christian organizations. However, the association of anti-homosexual organizing with religious (specifically Christian) principles is highlighted only when activists are targeting fellow Christians in order to recruit or educate them. When organizing in the wider political arena, anti-homosexual organizing is cast in the secular terms of "family values" and "defense of the family."
This is an important aspect of the Religious Right's organizing style. Since the mid-1980s, when the heavy-handed style of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority lost popularity, the Christian Right has cast its campaigns in terms not so obviously linked to the Bible. Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition refers to the soft-peddling of the religious message in his own organization's work as conducting a "stealth campaign."
In the case of the anti-homosexual campaign, the Religious Right has dwelt on calumnious depictions of predatory behavior by homosexuals. Various anti-gay campaigns have accused homosexuals of eating feces, molesting children, and destroying the family. Many of these characterizations are "documented" by the work of Dr. Paul Cameron and Roger J. Magnuson. Oregon's 1992 anti-gay initiative (which was rejected by the voters) equates homosexuality with "pedophilia, sadism or masochism." While it is only in explicitly religious attacks on homosexuals that homosexuality is equated with Satan, that connection is uncontroversial among many involved in organizing against homosexuals.
Though the religious basis of this anti-homosexual fervor often is not mentioned, occasionally this bias becomes clear. On February 10, 1992, Bill McCartney, head football coach at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said at a press conference that homosexuality is a "sin" that is "an abomination of almighty God." McCartney is a member of the advisory board of Colorado for Family Values. Former US Representative William Armstrong, who describes himself as having had a "life-changing experience" when he became born again, is chairman of the advisory board of CFV.
But the clearest revelation of the religious basis for the work of CFV is a talk given by Kevin Tebedo, CFV executive director, at the First Congregational Church in Colorado Springs on August 23, 1992. In this setting, Tebedo states that Amendment 2 "is about authority."
He goes on to say, "It's about whose authority takes precedence in the society in which we live. . . [I]s it the authority of God? The authority of the supreme King of Kings and Lord of Lords? You see, we say we should have the separation of church and state, but you see, Jesus Christ is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. That is politics; that is rule; that is authority."
In spite of the obvious preeminence of Christian principles in the values of its national organizational supporters and some of its advisory board members, the literature of Colorado for Family Values does not refer to Christianity, Biblical admonitions regarding homosexuality, or religious principles. A large CFV packet of information dated January 9, 1992, does not mention a religious basis for CFV's work. Finally, there is no mention of religion in the CFV Mission Statement.
The History of "No Special Rights"
Another area of deception in the public face of the anti-homosexual campaign is its assertion that lesbians and gay men are seeking "special rights" or "special protections." This was the guiding premise behind Anita Bryant's campaign, was raised again by Enrique Rueda in The Homosexual Network and Gays, AIDS and You, and eventually emerged as the slogan of the national anti-homosexual campaign. In the case of Colorado's Amendment 2, the slogan was the dominant theme of CFV's advertising and promotion.
The use of "no special rights" is purposefully misleading. Gay rights initiatives do not provide "special rights," but a guarantee of equal rights for lesbians and gay men. Amendment 2 would deny equal protection against discrimination only to this group. CFV's decision to use "no special rights" only in its public materials and not in the legal language of the amendment itself was made on the advice of the National Legal Foundation.
A June 1991 letter from Brian McCormick of NLF advises CFV to stay away from the "no special rights" language in its legal formulations, but to use it as the centerpiece of its public campaign. Coloradans were bombarded with advertisements and flyers all drumming home the message that Amendment 2 did nothing but reverse the unfair granting of "special rights" through gay rights initiatives. Future anti-gay initiatives will undoubtedly continue the use of the "no special rights" slogan because the cohesiveness of the right's anti-homosexual campaign virtually guarantees that local initiatives will follow the lead of national organizations.
Legal Issues Raised by Amendment 2
After the voters in Colorado approved Amendment 2 by majority vote, a preliminary injunction was successfully sought by a group of plaintiffs that included individuals, gay rights organizations, and the three Colorado cities--Denver, Aspen, and Boulder--that had existing gay rights ordinances. The injunction was requested on the grounds that Amendment 2 would deprive gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals of any legal remedy for acts of discrimination against them, and deprive the state and all local governments from enacting any statutes, ordinances, or policies that prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Discrimination may occur in such areas as insurance, employment, housing, and accommodation.
The plaintiffs faced the difficult burden of overcoming the "presumption of constitutionality" granted to any successful amendment. They also needed to prove that there was a reasonable likelihood that they would prevail on the merits of their case. The plaintiffs argued that the amendment denied fundamental constitutional rights and also violated the constitutional guarantee of equal protection because there was no rational relationship between its provisions and the accomplishment of a legitimate public goal. To prevail, the plaintiffs needed to establish that such a denial of rights would create real, immediate, and irreparable harm to lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals.
Colorado District Court Judge Jeffrey Bayless determined that there was a reasonable probability that the amendment denied the plaintiffs a fundamental right--the right to participate in the governmental process--and that the amendment could be upheld only if the defendants could show that it furthered a compelling governmental purpose.
Judge Bayless concluded that lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals are an identifiable group that deserves protection. Acknowledging that the Constitution cannot control private prejudices, he ruled that legislation must not indirectly "give them effect." Judge Bayless then granted the temporary injunction blocking Amendment 2. A later permanent injunction was then appealed to the US Supreme Court.
Homophobia is a bedrock value in our society, one that crosses lines of class, race, and even gender. Our Calvinist attitudes toward sex, based in religious teaching that sex is only for procreation, and a patriarchal culture that is discomforted by any breaking down of rigid sex roles, combine to create a culture that can deal with homosexuality, if at all, only in the artistic and commercial spheres. The lesbian and gay civil rights movement has pushed homosexuality out of the artistic and commercial world and into the political and social sphere. This is almost guaranteed to create a backlash while society absorbs and adjusts to new values.
While that backlash may be inevitable, it can be tamped down or fanned by political forces. This review of the right wing's organizing to promote a backlash against the gay rights movement is a study in reaction. Deprived of its old enemies and needing a new issue to promote, the right's anti-homosexual organizing is rank opportunism. The anti-gay backlash is in large part a creation of the right. It is generating funds, keeping right-wing organizations that were in danger of complete eclipse alive with an infusion of new support, and generating the all-important evidence of political power--media attention.
The threat this backlash represents is very real. Violence is its most blatant manifestation, but the litany of pain and waste caused by homophobia includes subtle attacks on gay men and lesbians as well. Furthermore, confronting the backlash distracts time, energy, and money from the work necessary to bring about equal rights for lesbians and gay men.
In the case of Colorado's Amendment 2, it would be comforting to think that the people who voted for the amendment were simply misled, and believed they were opposing special rights for homosexuals. While that deception was promoted by Colorado for Family Values, the vote also reflects the deep-seated persistence of homophobia in our society. The skillful manipulation of homophobia by the right wing creates anti-gay sentiment and actions that bolster and promote intolerance.
In the United States, we must decide what role the church and religious tenets are going to play, especially when those tenets are in conflict with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It is not an attack on Christianity or religion to question the propriety of imposing Biblical law on a secular society. If ours is a society in which church and state are separate, then the prohibitions of church dogma cannot overrule the protections provided by the Constitution. And the Constitution, to paraphrase Mr. Justice McKenna in the 1910 case of Weems v. U.S., is progressive--it is not fastened to the obsolete, but may acquire new meaning as public opinion becomes enlightened by a humane justice.
Jean Hardisty, who holds a doctorate in political science, is the former Director of Political Research Associates. This article appeared in The Public Eye, March 1993.
©1995, Jean Hardisty.
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