Anti-gay rhetoric pervaded a social conservative convention over the weekend where Republican presidential candidates brandished their credentials for the religious right.
Remarks against gays and marriage equality came from several speakers — including lawmakers and conservative activists — at the 2011 Value Voters Summit in D.C., which was hosted by the anti-gay Family Research Council.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), known of being one of the most anti-gay members of the U.S. House, had particularly harsh words on Friday for LGBT advocates seeking to advance same-sex marriage.
“Marriage is the essential foundation stone for civilization,” King said. “It’s under assault today, ladies and gentlemen. It’s under assault even though it is a sacrament. They have decided they are going to assault it and they are doing so because — not because there is an alterior value out there. They will just attack everything that we believe in.”
The Iowa lawmaker, who spoke fondly of his involvement with the 2010 campaign that ousted three Iowa justices who ruled in favor of marriage equality, ridiculed pro-LGBT activists who protested the bus tour in the campaign against the judges.
“They were on the verge of militant,” King said. “They would come out and they would stand in there and they would scream and yell and curse with the worst profanity I’ve heard anywhere, and I spent my life in the construction business. They were the most unhappy people I ever met that called themselves ‘gay.'”
According to the Iowa Independent, King’s description of the bus tour isn’t consistent with what reporters from the media outlet saw. At one bus stop in Cedar Rapids, for example, same-sex marriage advocates outnumbered those who attended in support of the campaign and chose to mostly stand silently while holding signs.
Bryan Fischer, director of issues analysis for the American Family Association, expressed among the strongest anti-gay views during his summit and said on Saturday he wants a president “who will treat homosexuality not as a political cause at all, but as a threat to public health.”
“Homosexual behavior represents the same threat to human health that injection drug use does,” Fischer said. “I believe we need a president who understands that neither homosexual behavior nor injection drug use represent lifestyles that any responsible government ought to normalize, legitimize, legalize, protect, sanction, or subsidize.”
Criticism from Fischer on Saturday came from one of the GOP presidential hopefuls who spoke before him at the event: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
“We should remember that decency and civility are values too,” Romney said. “One of the speakers who will follow me today has crossed that line I think. Poisonous language doesn’t advance our cause. It has never softened a single heart or changed a single mind.”
Romney didn’t explicitly name anyone in these remarks, but, according to Politico, a Romney campaign official confirmed the former Massachusetts governor was referring to Fischer. It’s unclear whether Romney was chastising Fischer for being anti-gay. Fischer has also had vitriolic words for Islam as well as Mormonism, the religion to which Romney belongs.
Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of gay conservative group GOProud, said Romney “is absolutely right” about Fischer and said the anti-gay activist’s comments “are what you would expect from a barbarian like Ahmadinejad not from a man who professes to be a Christian.”
“Gov. Romney should be praised for speaking out courageously against this kind of rhetoric,” LaSalvia continued. “We have a country on the edge of fiscal disaster and it is critical that we have a united conservative movement that can make the case to average Americans about why our vision, our values and our policies are right for this country. The last thing we need is a right wing version of Jeremiah Wright, distracting and dividing us, and that’s exactly what Bryan Fisher is.”
Despite his remarks, Romney also reiterated his pledge to defend in court the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
“But marriage is more than a personally rewarding social custom,” Romney said. “It is also critical for the well-being of a civilization. That is why it’s so important to preserve traditional marriage — the joining together of one man and one woman. And that’s why I will appoint an attorney general who will defend the bipartisan law passed by Congress and signed by Bill Clinton — the Defense of Marriage Act.”
The former Massachusetts governor had previously signed a pledge with the National Organization for Marriage promising to defend DOMA against litigation and to back a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Criticism for the Obama administration’s decision to drop the defense of DOMA in court came from several Republican presidential candidates during the Value Voters Summit.
Herman Cain, former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, was among those saying he would resume the executive branch’s role in defending the law if elected president. He previously spoke out against Obama for no longer defending DOMA in court, but hasn’t signed the NOM pledge.
“I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman,” Cain said. “And I would not have asked the Department of Justice to not enforce it. I would have asked the Department of Justice to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act.”
Cain is wrong is saying that Obama isn’t enforcing DOMA. Although the Justice Department has discontinued defending in DOMA, the administration is still enforcing the law.
House Republican leaders who attended the conference trumpeted their decision to take up defense of DOMA in the Obama administrations. After the administration announced in February it would no longer defend DOMA, the House’s Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group voted on a party-line basis to take up defense of the law.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) restated his position before his audience on Friday that funds should be directed from the Justice Department to the House to pay for the cost of defending DOMA.
“I’ve raised my hand to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States and the laws of our country,” Boehner said. “And if the Justice Department was not going to defend this act passed by Congress, well, then we will. And we have defended the law that the Congress passed. We’re going to take the money away from the Justice Department, who’s supposed to enforce it, and we’ll use it to enforce the law.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) echoed praise in his speech for the House’s leadership in taking up defense of DOMA now that the Obama administration isn’t defending the law.
“We will continue and stand up for the Defense of Marriage Act as we fight for victory in the Supreme Court this term,” Cantor said.
This week, a contract modification became public revealing that House Republicans had raised the cost cap to $1.5 million to pay private attorney Paul Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general, to defend DOMA in court.
House Republicans cannot unilaterally redirect congressionally allocated funds from the Justice Department to the House for the purposes of defending DOMA. Both the House and the Senate would have to approve the fund redistribution legislatively through the appropriations process — and such a measure would need Obama’s signature for enactment.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, criticized House Republican leaders for touting their defense of DOMA — as well as the anti-gay tone of the conference in general.
“This is a clarion call for equality supporters and a sign of just how much influence groups like the Family Research Council hold over anti-LGBT lawmakers,” Solmonese said. “This is a reminder that we have real challenges ahead of us — from repealing DOMA once and for all to making our workplaces safer and more equitable with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.”
Drew Hammill, spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), also rebuked Boehner for extolling his defense of DOMA and said Americans have other priorities.
“While Speaker Boehner does his best to convince the right-wing that both of his feet are firmly planted on the wrong side of history, the American taxpayers are paying the price,” Hammill said. “It’s time for the Speaker to end the hypocrisy of spending $1.5 million to foster discrimination and make more friends on the right, and get back to Americans’ top priority: creating jobs.”