Romney, Bachmann, Santorum Sign on to Pledge to 'Investigate' Gays

Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 6 MIN.

How anti-gay are the hopefuls looking to secure the GOP nomination for next year's White House campaign? A potentially sinister point, buried among many anti-gay provisions, has emerged from a campaign pledge prepared by The National Organization of Marriage (NOM), a powerful group that opposes marriage equality for gay and lesbian families.

NOM invited GOP contenders to sign on earlier this month. Among the document's provisions is a call for Republican candidates to promise to "investigate" gay Americans if elected president.

Three contenders signed on to the pledge immediately upon its release: Frontrunners Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann, as well as Rick Santorum. All three have burnished their anti-gay credentials. Though Bachmann has muted her homophobic rhetoric while on the campaign trail, she has previously made an array of bizarre claims about gays, including assertions that most gays have suffered abuse, that gays live "very sad lives" because of their sexual orientation, and that to call homosexuals "gay," with its implication of happiness, is "of Satan."

Romney was governor of Massachusetts when that state became the first in the nation to grant legal same-sex marriages seven years ago. While still governor, Romney sought to dilute and limit the scope of marriage equality, even dredging up a racist law from 1913 in order to prevent gay couples from out of state from traveling to Massachusetts to tie the knot.

Rick Santorum is infamous for having compared devoted life partnerships between couples of the same gender with "man on dog" sex. More recently, Santorum -- who trails far behind Romney and Bachmann -- has said that he will not shift the focus of his campaign off social questions, even though many conservatives serious about retaking the White House (gay conservatives among them) counsel keeping fiscal issues first and foremost in any campaign.

All three contenders also favor an amendment to the United States Constitution that would write anti-gay language into the nation's bedrock law by denying marriage to non-heterosexual American citizens.

Addicting Info reported on Aug. 16 that the three anti-gay politicians had signed on to the NOM campaign pledge, which requires signatories to vow an "investigation" into gays.

The pledge plays up right-wing claims of harassment by thuggish gays in the deeply divisive and bruising campaign to pass California's Proposition 8 in 2008. That ballot initiative yanked existing marriage rights away from gay and lesbian families in California. There were reports of boycotts and minor vandalism on both sides, with much of the vandalism targeting yard signs expressing support or opposition to the initiative, but the anti-gay fringe right preferentially seized on claims that proponents of the measure had been harassed and threatened.

In the wake of Prop 8's passage, hundreds of protests took place around the country. Almost all of those protests were carried out peaceably, but in a scant few instances there were ugly episodes of conflict, usually involving gays whose gatherings or traditional neighborhoods were invaded by anti-gay Christians. In one incident in Palm Springs, an elderly woman carrying a Styrofoam cross pushed her way into a candlelight vigil organized by GLBT equality advocates; though most of the vigil's attendees sought to stay out of her way, two men, angry at the outcome of a vote in which their civil rights had been rescinded at the ballot box, snatched the cross from her and stomped it to pieces.

In another bout, anti-gay Christian proselytizers went to traditionally gay neighborhood the Castro in San Francisco only days after the vote and began to preach to gays there. The group was surrounded by an angry, shouting crowd. Police escorted the group out of the neighborhood. One individual who was at the scene later framed the fracas as an exercise in his own right to freedom of expression, telling the press, "Their rights were respected. They got a chance to go ahead and pray on the sidewalk and I had the opportunity to express my freedom of speech which is telling them to get out of my neighborhood."

The fringe right also acted instantly to pin a church fire in Wasilla, Alaska, on gays, though not a scrap of evidence ever emerged that a gay person or persons were behind the blaze, or that the fire -- which appeared to be the work of an arsonist -- was politically motivated.

Anti-gay fringe groups also seized on angry postings to message boards just after Proposition 8 narrowly passed at the ballot box. Enraged gays vented their fury at online gay blogs and news resources, but anti-gay groups were monitoring message boards at those venues and eagerly seized on those postings, promoting them as evidence that gays were universally lawless and violent, and calling for federal investigators to look into the postings and make arrests. (No such calls have ever been made by the fringe right with respect to the routinely violent anti-gay postings made at sites like Free Republic.)

NOM has made a show of using claims of gay thuggery to defy election officials in both California and Maine (where NOM played a key role in a referendum that repealed a marriage equality law in 2009, before the law could take effect), refusing to disclose its donors lists even though laws in both states require that they do so. NOM argues that if the donor lists were made public, the individuals that had supported anti-gay referenda in California and Maine would be subject to reprisals and harassment, and perhaps even violence. It's an argument that even Supreme Court archconservative Antonin Scalia has publicly rejected.

When the Supreme Court ruled against Protect Marriage Washington, an anti-gay group that had sought to shield its donors using the same arguments NOM had attempted to use, Scalia commented succinctly: "For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously and even exercises the direct democracy of initiative and referendum hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism. This does not resemble the Home of the Brave."

Even so, NOM and other anti-gay groups seem to believe they has found a winning method to sully the GLBT community, and other anti-gay groups have also taken up the chant, claiming that any progress toward equality made by gays results invariably and directly in a loss of religious freedom and free expression for those who oppose and condemn gays because of the dogma of their faith tradition.

The NOM campaign pledge calls for GOP contenders to "establish a presidential commission on religious liberty to investigate and document reports of Americans who have been harassed or threatened for exercising key civil rights to organize, to speak, to donate or to vote for marriage and to propose new protections, if needed."

The language is extremely nebulous, with nothing in the way of a clear definition of what would constitute "harassment" or "threats" to anti-gay religious activists. However, the vague wording could also conceivably backfire, if advocates for marriage between same-sex couples were to be harassed or threatened, as also happened during the bitterly divisive Prop 8 campaign. Though NOM's view of "marriage" extends only to legal unions between persons of different genders, a case might be made, especially where same-sex marriage is legal, to apply the same criteria against religiously motivated family parity opponents who "harass" or "threaten" gay couples and marriage equality advocates.

Addicting Info anticipated a one-way street with regard to who would bear the brunt of such investigations, however.

"[T]he extreme right wing is going to persecute homosexuals on a whole new level if they have power after the 2012 Election," the posting predicted. "Homosexuals and supporters of marriage equality will be intimidated, interrogated, and stripped of their right to speak freely."

Addicting Info called the pledge an example of latter-day "McCarthyism."

The promise to investigate gays was one among several anti-gay points contained in the full document, which NOM invited GOP contenders to sign earlier this month. Among the pledge's other points are vows to press for an anti-gay amendment to the United States Constitution, defend anti-gay federal laws such as the Defense of Marriage Act (which denies gay and lesbian families any legal recognition at the federal level), and put the rights of marriage same-sex couples up to a vote in the District of Columbia.

When the three anti-gay pols hastened to sign on to the pledge, NOM's Brian Brown praised them as "marriage champions."

Fringe right groups have issued various pledges, hoping to influence candidates' public platforms and position themselves as power players in the crowded field of anti-gay politics. But in one instance -- a 14-point agenda prepared by an anti-gay Iowa group -- the ploy backfired. That pledge contained racist language that drew national attention, and criticism, to the group and to the two GOP contenders, Bachmann and Santorum, who signed on. Romney refused, in that instance, to lend his name to the pledge.

The racially offensive language was later removed from the Iowa group's pledge, but all of its anti-gay language was left intact.

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

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.

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