Small Ohio City’s Mayor Calls Homosexuality ’Abomination’
When Kevin Johnson, a member of the City Council of Portsmouth, Ohio, sent an email to Mayor David Malone about joining a national campaign for marriage equality, he got back a short response that he found insulting, ignorant and undemocratic.
"As you are probably aware, when I ran for Council in 2009, certain elements in our community suggested that I would bring a "San Francisco gay agenda" to the forefront of my legislative goals," Johnson wrote in an email reproduced in an article in the Portsmouth Daily Times. "And, as you are most definitely aware, such has not been the case. I have not once suggested any legislation in support of, nor have I encouraged any elected official to support, any gay cause, issue or proposition. Until now."
Johnson then went on to describe a "Mayors for the Freedom to Marry" campaign that was launched last month, in which 80 prominent mayors pledged to push for marriage equality for same-sex couples.
"Though this issue no longer affects me directly, given that my partner of over 30 years, Paul Eugene Johnson, passed away nearly three years ago, I firmly believe this issue will 1) not go away, and 2) will succeed in municipalities and states that seek and thrive upon economic and social diversity," Johnson wrote the mayor. He went on to cite LGBT job protections at Shawnee State University and Southern Ohio Medical Center, the city's two biggest employers.
"As for municipalities and states that have extended equal rights provisions, the benefits to individuals and the local economies have long been documented," he argued. "Our educated young entrepreneurs and skilled workers find they thrive in equality environments; and tend to choose where to live and work based upon the perceived "equality" factor of an area -- which, for example, both Cleveland and Columbus have recognized -- to their economic benefit."
Johnson could have been quoting almost verbatim from Richard Florida's famous thesis earlier this century. The sociology professor had studied successful cities and concluded that one of the cornerstones of the culture that fostered a climate that attracted talented and educated people was a pro-gay climate and a flourishing gay community.
Malone wasn't buying any of it.
He wrote briskly back: "Being that I am a minister of the Gospel and the BIBLE [sic] emphatically forbids such, there is absolutely no way that I will support this. Although this is your preferred lifestyle, I have the utmost respect for you as a person and the things you do for the city, I cannot support what God calls an abomination."
Johnson wrote a fiery reply in which he expressed his anger at a reference to a "preferred lifestyle." He castigated the mayor for responding as "Right Reverent Malone," not "Mayor Malone." He then went on to cite some of the other Levitican proscriptions often mentioned by those who argue that people who call homosexuality an abomination probably should steer clear of shellfish, menstruating women and ham. (Among things allowed by the Levitican code are slaves, stoning adulterous women and multiple wives.)
He related what he called the real "absolute evil and abomination": the fact that of 12 starters on a local school football team, "10 had one or no parents whatsoever and had been homeless at the beginning of the school year. That heterosexuals can and do play so loosely with the lives of children, marry and divorce with abandon, and politely ignore adultery, are the epitome of evil and abomination."
He said that he understood a principled opposition to same-sex marriage. "However," he added, "for an elected official to be opposed to this or any other issue based upon their preferred book of religion, be it the Bible, Book of Mormon, Koran, Torah or the Vedas, begs credulity. But I suppose one must be thankful that our Mayor is not an orthodox, theological Shiite or Sunni Muslim."
It is not known how Malone responded to Johnson's arguments that Portsmouth might benefit from a more accepting atmosphere. But the hardscrabble Ohio River town could use some help from somewhere. The town has lost its industry and over half its population since the 1960s.
Once home to a thriving steel mill, it now only attracts attention as the nation's worst incidence of oxycontin ("hillbilly heroin") abuse. (This reporter, as it happens, grew up there and sees the election of Johnson as a milestone in this central buckle in the Bible Belt.)