IFAS | Freedom Writer | February 1994 | bigotry.html

More bigotry on the ballot

By Frederick Clarkson

Anti-gay ballot initiatives continue to work as a major tactic in the Christian Right's drive for political power. Win or lose, the exploitation of fears and ignorance about homosexuality serves as a "wedge issue" to build mailing lists, reach new allies, and divide political opponents.

Last November, gay rights laws passed by city councils in Cincinnati, Ohio and Lewiston, Maine, were repealed by voters by more than a 2-1 margin. A Portsmouth, New Hampshire advisory vote on gay rights failed by a margin of 3-2. At least 16 towns and counties in Oregon passed Colorado-style initiatives this year, barring the extension of civil rights to gays and lesbians.

In 1994, anti-gay politics will move to the state level with efforts to get initiatives on the ballot in Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Michigan, and Missouri. Initiatives are also possible in Maine, Oregon, Washington, and California.

While the propaganda film "The Gay Agenda" continues to fuel these campaigns, Lou Sheldon's Traditional Values Coalition has produced a similar, if long-winded, video: "Gay Rights, Special Rights." The film argues that gays and lesbians are inappropriately and undeservingly claiming the heritage of the black civil rights movement. While there are some blacks in the film, the most prominent proponents of this view are former attorney general Ed Meese and U.S. Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), whose civil rights records have been, as Newsweek (10/18/93) reported, "unfriendly to blacks." "Lott opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1990, and as a congressman tried to reverse the ban on exemptions for segregated schools," said Newsweek, while Meese "led the Reagan administration's war on affirmative action."

Meese and Lott offer a special kind of cynicism. Although they have opposed every modern civil rights advance, they claim to speak for the civil rights movement. (Sheldon's film actually uses footage of King's historic "I have a dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial.) What is really going on here is that the far right is attempting to hijack the symbols and moral authority of the civil rights movement to demonize gays and lesbians. This is a clever attempt to divide the far right's historic opponents blacks, Jews, and Hispanics who have been allies in the struggle for civil and economic justice.

Beneath much of the Christian Right rhetoric about "values" is hate and intolerance. Pat Robertson of the Christian Coalition routinely castigates those who disagree with him as "anti-Christian" and even "Satanic." In his book The New World Order, Robertson calls the American Jewish Congress "irreligious," while invoking "the God of Jacob" behind his political agenda.

The "traditional American values" of democracy, pluralism, and religious tolerance are also under attack, though these values are the glue that has held this society together despite religious differences. R.J. Rushdoony of the Chalcedon Foundation complains, for example, that "in the name of toleration, the believer is asked to be associated on a common level of total acceptance with the atheist, the pervert, the criminal, and the adherents of other religions."

Constitutional democracy in the U.S. means respect for minority rights. Belatedly, this will include sexual orientation. And while the theocratic Christian Right now pretends to adopt the moral position on civil rights it once opposed, the aggressive promotion of homophobic bigotry is a wedge issue aimed not just at gays and lesbians, but the constitutional rights of everyone.

© 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.