Anti-gay views were largely downplayed on stage Friday during the first day of an annual gathering for social conservatives, although some political commentators bared their teeth against the LGBT community.
Ben Carson, a former neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University who was recently hired by Fox News as a commentator, echoed his previous opposition to “change the definition” of marriage to include same-sex couples during the Values Voter Summit, which is hosted by the Family Research Council.
“We need to recognize that God created the family structure for a reason and marriage is a sacred institution from God himself, and there is no reason that man needs to change the definition of marriage,” Carson said.
Carson said “it is true” that people should “be respectful” of everyone’s rights and expressed support for some kind of contractual agreement between same-sex couples, but drew the line at marriage equality.
“And I personally believe that any two adults have the right to bind themselves legally in such a way that they have visitation rights, property rights, various other rights,” Carson said. “But that does not require to change the definition of marriage.”
But the most extreme anti-gay sentiment on stage came from Sandy Rios, host of the American Family Association’s “Sandy Rios in the Morning,” who railed against what she called health risks of homosexuality — taking note of the high rate of HIV infection in the gay community — as well as relationship issues she says gay men face.
“Because the love is misplaced they find themselves in a series of heartbreaking situations,” Rios said. “In the homosexual life, especially with men, there are so many partners, there’s so much heartbreak and rejection. You think youth is worshipped in heterosexual sex? It is top of line. And they like young men, young virile men. When you get older when you’re a gay man, there’s so much rejection, there’s heartache.”
Further, Rios dismissed the notion that the death of Matthew Shepard in Laramie Wyo., in 1998, was a bias-motivated crime, and said it was instead the result of a drug deal gone bad, pointing to a recent book by gay journalist Stephen Jimenez to back up her claims.
Rios said social conservatives will continue to offer gay people “hope and redemption,” pointing to those who identify as “ex-gay” as examples. She said gay people who have undertaken ex-gay sexual orientation conversion therapy — a practice debunked and condemned by mainstream psychological groups — are unable to tell their stories “because they’re maligned and threatened.”
“There are tons of ex-gays with fabulous stories that the American people don’t even know about,” Rios said.
Additionally, Rios criticized the Southern Poverty Law Center for identifying the Family Research Council and the American Family Association as hate groups and refusing to apologize for it after a gunman attempted a mass shooting at the Family Research Council headquarters last year.
But for the most part, conservatives abstained from making anti-gay comments on stage. The major focus was screeds against abortion, the implementation of health care reform and blaming President Obama and Democrats for the government shutdown.
Carson, who’s black, won significant media attention and applause for comparing the health care reform law to slavery.
“Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery,” Carson said. “And it is – in a way, it is slavery, in a way because it is making all of us subservient to the government.”
More than 2,000 people were estimated to have registered for the summit, according to the Family Research Council. That’s slightly less than the estimated 2,500 people who attended the summit last year during a presidential election.
Another reference to same-sex marriage came from Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who criticized Obama for not enforcing marriage laws along with other laws, including the individual mandate in health care reform.
“I think about how our president is today picking and choosing the laws he wants to enforce,” Scott said. “We cannot have a president who picks and chooses, who says, ‘I don’t really like the marriage law,” so he isn’t enforcing it. He says, ‘I don’t like the immigration law, so I’ll go around it.’ He says, ‘I don’t even like the Obamacare law, so I’m going to delay part of it.'”
Presumably, Scott was referring to President Obama’s decision to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act against litigation, which led to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Section 3 of the law. However, Obama continued to enforce the law even as he refused to defend the law in court.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) also made a reference to “traditional marriage,” but as part of a litany of reasons why the Republican Party needs to focus more on the family.
“For the rapid changes that we’ve seen in America in recent years have only made the family more important, not less,” Lee said. “The family is the foundation not only of our society, but also of our economy, our culture and our Republican form of government.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) received significant attention for his speech, but focused for the most part on his objections to health care reform and his pursuit of defunding the law. The senator also accused of the administration of telling “servicemen and women that they cannot share their faith or risk discipline.”
Multiple times during his speech, protesters interrupted Cruz. One called on him to support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, a provision of immigration reform that he has opposed.
The stronger anti-gay sentiment was seen at the convention booths across the hall at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. Kiosks were set up by the National Organization for Marriage, the Liberty Counsel, the Heritage Foundation and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays.
Attendees who spoke with the Washington Blade weren’t enthusiastic about expressing their opposition t0 same-sex marriage.
Drew Grotelueschen, a 20-year-old student from Trinity International Law School, said he’s “not really sure” if the country is settling on accepting same-sex marriage, but wasn’t against the idea.
“Honestly, with the culture right now, it’s probably leaning more toward making gay marriage free everywhere, but I’m not sure yet,” Grotelueschen said. “I haven’t thought it that much.”
Diane Orosz, a 20-year-old student from University of Buffalo, said she opposes same-sex marriage on the grounds that gay couples can’t procreate, but seemed resigned to the idea that it’s legal in many places.
“With the society that we do have, it’s more liberal,” Orosz said. “I feel as though, unfortunately, there might be a settlement on gay marriage itself, but I don’t agree with [it.]…Love, the feeling, the emotion is the same, but marriage defines a man and a woman and their union together…Unfortunately, with our more liberal society, and free hippy type of society, I feel like gay marriage is inevitable.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) expressed a view in favor of “social issues,” but didn’t articulate with detail what they consist of or voice any anti-gay sentiment.
“And I’ve also been lectured, as many of you have, about how we need to stop talking about social issues if we want to win elections,” Rubio said. “But if we’re serious about saving the American dream, we can’t stop talking about these issues. We can’t stop talking about the importance of our values and our culture. We can’t stop talking about them because the moral well-being of our people is directly linked to their economic well-being.”