CNN hosted an anti-gay hate group to discuss the nationally televised kiss between gay NFL draftee Michael Sam and his boyfriend, resulting in a segment that included questions about whether homosexuality is a sin and a choice.
On May 11, the St. Louis Rams announced that they had drafted the former University of Missouri defensive end, who made national headlines when he came out in February. The Rams' pick means Sam will be the first openly gay active player in NFL history.
In an emotional moment captured by ESPN, Sam received word of his selection by phone, sharing a kiss with boyfriend Vito Cammisano shortly thereafter. The kiss sparked homophobic outrage from the likes of former Super Bowl champion Derrick Ward, who tweeted that Sam "is no bueno for doing that on national TV."
During the May 12 edition of CNN Tonight, anchor Bill Weir invited local anchor Dale Hansen, whose February speech in support of Sam created an Internet sensation, and the Family Research Council's (FRC) Ken Blackwell to discuss the controversy. The segment - during which Blackwell asserted that Sam kissed his boyfriend to help push an "agenda" and speculated that the kiss was a "political prophylactic" to protect Sam from getting fired - disintegrated into a back-and-forth over whether homosexuality is a choice and a sin, highlighting precisely why it's never a good idea for national outlets to provide a platform to hate groups like the FRC:
BLACKWELL: I thought the kiss was inappropriate and over the top, but I am just surprised with the duplicity among owners and leadership of the NFL. I take it it was just a few years ago when there were players who criticized Tim Tebow for wearing his faith on his sleeve. There were folks who basically said he was not a good football player; that's why they were critical of him, not because he was a professed Christian who practiced his faith in all aspects of his life.
I -- I really do question the network's judgment, editorial judgment in putting the kiss on -- on TV. Look, this is a very clear opportunity for Mr. Sam and others to co-op a professional sports, in this case the NFL, as a platform and as a force multiplier for advancing their agenda.
Let me just say that I hope he hasn't created a political prophylactic that will shield his inability to make the team as a football player -- as a football player because he's an advocate for a lifestyle.
There's no reason for CNN to be surprised that Blackwell used his appearance on the network to justify anti-gay discrimination. The FRC specializes in malicious anti-LGBT smears, including the discredited claim that gay men aim to "recruit" children and are disproportionately likely to be child molesters. The group's agenda extends far beyond opposing marriage equality and basic non-discrimination protections for LGBT people; the FRC is on the record in support of laws criminalizing gay sex.
Sam's kiss and the reaction it provoked demonstrated that for all the progress gay people have made in the courts of both law and public opinion, even many people who outwardly express support for gay rights are uncomfortable at the most basic displays of affection between gay couples. By inviting Blackwell to comment on the Sam's kiss, CNN helped legitimize and mainstream the kind of homophobia that keeps gay people afraid to be themselves in the public.