Marriage Equality Roils the Right

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday July 18, 2011

For conservatives who embrace the less-is-more philosophy of keeping government out of people's private lives, marriage equality is both inevitable and welcome. But for politicians of another stripe, gays and their families remain low-hanging political fruit. The divide may have the makings of a not-too-distant war that could divide the right.

During an appearance on CNN program "State of the Union," Rudy Giuliani expressed the view that the GOP should stop focusing on subjects like marriage equality and concern itself more with fiscal issues, calling the recent vote in New York to bring family parity to that state "wrong," but adding, "there are other things that I think are wrong that get decided by democratic vote," reported CNN on July 17.

"I think the Republican Party would be well-advised to get the heck out of people's bedrooms and let these things get decided by states," the former mayor of New York City told host Candy Crowley on the July 17 episode of the political program. "We'd be a much more successful political party if we stuck to our economic, conservative roots," Giuliani added.

Giuliani has reportedly been pondering a presidential run next year, but has yet to announce himself as a candidate. He has said that he supports civil unions, and although he remains personally opposed to equal legal recognition for same-sex couples, he told CNN that he could "live with" the fact that New York will begin permitting gay and lesbian families to enter into matrimony on July 24.

For that matter, said Giuliani, "I see more harm... by dwelling so much on the subject of gays and lesbians and whether it's right or wrong in politics," Fox News reported on July 17.

The Fox News story noted that despite a looming deadline on a budget agreement between Democrats and Republicans in Congress that could result in a default on America's loans and send the still-fragile economy into a downward spiral, "Some congressional Republicans are pushing to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman," a law that faces multiple challenges in federal courts and which the Obama Administration announced earlier this year it would no longer defend due to questions of the law's constitutionality.

Two courts have already found portions of DOMA to be unconstitutional. House Republicans have come up with a plan to use taxpayer money to hire a private attorney to defend DOMA in court.

"Giuliani, who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008, is one of a handful of big Republican names still deciding whether to make a late entrance into the 2012 field," the Fox News article said.

The former New York mayor suggested that his political views and experience could be the tonic the nation's troubled economy needs.

"I think that I probably have the best record in terms of having done something similar to what the country needs done right now," Giuliani said during his CNN appearance. "I look at the other candidates, and they have all done very impressive things, but none of them really had to take over a city, one of the largest economies in the country and one of the most complex when it was in terrible trouble and turn it around and have definable results."

Giuliani's message was refuted at FreeRepublic.com, a right-wing chat site where gay news is a fixture among conversational topics. Contributors to the chat referred to gays as "perverts" and "fags."

"So Rudy thinks traditional-values Republicans have no business in the debate, and should leave the field to pro-perversion liberals," one chat participant wrote. "I wonder who Rudy thinks would be his base if he ran again as a Republican."

"What's he talking about?" wrote another. "The fags want their degenerate lifestyle out of the bedrooms and on the streets."

Agreed a third, "As soon as the perverts get their BEDROOM Behavior off the streets, internet, TV, out of the movies, video's [sic] and back to the PORN store down the sleazy block of town, we will think about it.

"Till then, don't lecture us about being in people's BEDROOMS!" the posting continued. "You've brought the BEDROOMS to us! We WANT out, believe me."

Some seemed uncertain about the distinction between civil marriage, which is granted by the state, and the sacrament of marriage, which is a religious rite. Couples who are wed by a justice of the peace secure the rights and protections of civil marriage, but not the religious blessings. Couples who are married in churches or temples secure both.

Even so, "I don't even care if they get civil unions, but Marriage is sanctified by the church alone," another chat participant wrote at FreeRepublic. "Why don't you butt out of church doctrine Rooty?"

A similar mixture of civic policy and religious faith was at the core of a July 16 New York Times article examining Michele Bachmann's message regarding LGBT citizens and their families.

The article noted that in 2004, when marriage equality was about to become equal in the United States for the first time following a ruling from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Bachmann, then a Minnesota lawmaker and now a Congresswoman and darling of the Tea Party, seized on the occasion to issue warnings that marriage equality for same-sex couples would imperil religious freedoms and put children at risk.

"We will have immediate loss of civil liberties for five million Minnesotans," Bachmann declared during a rally to promote a measure to place marriage out of reach of same-sex families in Bachmann's state of Minnesota. "In our public schools, whether they want to or not, they'll be forced to start teaching that same-sex marriage is equal, that it is normal and that children should try it."

Bachmann's message on gays is muted now that she is attempting to portray herself as a mainstream and credible presidential candidate to a nation of voters whose anxieties center around the still-faltering economy, the Times noted. But there is no evidence that her beliefs regarding gays have softened: Bachmann was the first to sign on to a 14-point campaign pledge in Iowa that was stuffed with anti-gay language and contained what some saw as a racial slur in its initial version, the one that Bachmann signed. (The fringe-right group that created the pledge later removed the racially offensive language from the document.)

That pledge was so offensive that only Bachmann and another anti-gay politician, Rick Santorum, put their names to it. Even anti-gay politicians Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty refused to sign on to it.

The Personal and the Political

Even off the campaign trail, Bachmann's views toward gays seem extreme, at least by association: The candidate's husband, Marcus Bachmann, runs Christian counseling services that reportedly promote so-called "reparative therapy," a faith-based modality that purports to "cure" gays by turning them into heterosexuals. Mental health professionals view such claims with skepticism and warn that gay people undergoing the treatment may end up worse off than before they started.

Marcus Bachmann himself, who is said to be a primary adviser to Michele Bachmann, characterized gays as "barbarians" in need of "discipline" during an interview with a Christian radio program in 2010.

As for Michele Bachmann's tough talk on smaller government and the evils of federal money being doled out through entitlement programs, both the clinic she runs with her husband and a family farm have raked in considerable sums of taxpayer money via just such programs. The receipt of those funds has been in accordance with the law, but not, observers note, with Bachmann's stated ideology. Moreover, GLBT equality advocates have expressed alarm that federal funds received by the Bachmann's clinic may have gone toward "reparative therapy" sessions.

As with many other individuals, institutions, and laws, the hostility toward gays that the Bachmanns exude comes hand in hand with an anti-gay religious faith that, to some, excuses -- even necessitates -- the animus they apparently harbor against GLBTs.

"Until recently, [the Bachmanns] were members of Salem Lutheran Church in Stillwater, part of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which holds that 'a believing member' cannot 'remain a practicing homosexual in defiance of God's word,' " the New York Times article noted.

Despite the words that the Bachmanns have issued publicly about gays, at least one personal friend to the couple declares that they are not homophobic.

"They are absolutely not against the gays," claimed JoAnne Hood, a congregant at Eagle Brook, the evangelical church the Bachmanns now attend. "They are just not for marriage [equality]."

But marriage equality has not been the only thing Michele Bachmann, during her tenure as a Minnesota lawmaker, worked against. She also opposed domestic partnerships and anti-discrimination measures, and made the claim, according to openly gay state senator Scott Dibble, "that being gay is a choice."

To Minnesota's gays and lesbians and their families, Bachmann's crusade for an amendment to limit their options didn't seem as innocuous as a matter of preserving personal religious liberties, but rather sounded like a pending infringement to the personal freedoms of a targeted class of people.

"The threat she represented was very real," Dibble told the New York Times.

For all that, Bachmann represented something that anti-gay Christians in the state welcomed.

"She stood up as a Christian," said a cleric named Bob Battle, whose church, the Berean Church of God in Christ, is located in St. Paul. "She made her point of view known, and she gave Christians a voice."

But the words Bachmann said in that voice sounded more and more inflammatory.

"They aren't interested in being Ward and June Cleaver, that's not what it's about," Bachmann warned listeners who tuned in to Christian radio program "Prophetic Views Behind the News."

"They want legitimization, and they want to force us to shut up about our opposition to the gay lifestyle," Bachmann added.

Bachmann's anti-gay rhetoric opened a deep divide between herself and her lesbian stepsister Helen LeFave, the Times noted, but that didn't slow her down.

"I don't think she has any idea how badly she's hurt our side of the family, and I don't think she cares," a second stepsister, Linda Cielinski, opined.

Though Bachmann's attempt to amend the Wisconsin state constitution failed, she had made enough of a name for herself that her supporters propelled her to her Congressional office -- evidently on the momentum she gathered on the single issue of gay families. And the push she started while a state lawmaker will find its culmination next year when voters in Minnesota go to the polls and vote on the rights of their gay and lesbian fellow citizens -- a plebiscite that heterosexual citizens have never yet had to face.

For GLBT equality activists, there may be a promise of a silver lining: They hope that with marriage equality now seven years old and the law of the land in six states, Minnesotans will make history by decisively rejecting the anti-gay ballot initiative. If not, Minnesota will become the 32nd state to write anti-gay discrimination into its bedrock law.

Either way, some onlookers fear that Minnesota may have let itself in for a campaign that might be as ugly and divisive as the campaign to pass Proposition 8 was in California -- a hugely expensive campaign that succeeded in stripping gay families of their marriage rights, but which seemed to do no one much good. A year later, anti-gay clerics were still complaining that California schoolchildren were learning about gays in school. Last year, a federal judge found Proposition 8 unconstitutional. That verdict is now under appeal.

Meanwhile, the New York Times noted, Bachmann does not necessarily get along with her fellow GOP Congressional peers any better than she did with her fellow state lawmakers in Minnesota. Moreover, her bid for the GOP nomination for the 2012 election, though having gotten off to a meteoric start, seems to be on the verge of fizzling: A CBS News analysis indicated that her prospects for raising fresh campaign revenue were looking bleak.

Even so, as happened in Minnesota, the heat that Bachmann's rhetoric has brought to the national stage could fuel acrimony and strife on the rightward end of the political spectrum for some time to come, as divisions between the two branches of conservatism -- smaller and less intrusive government versus federal regulation of social issues -- grow deeper and wider.

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Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.