On January 27, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz announced the formation of his new anti-choice coalition: "Pro-Life For Cruz." As part of the announcement, Cruz named anti-choice extremist Troy Newman as a "national co-chair" of the group, despite Newman's problematic history of harassing abortion providers and endorsing violent rhetoric about them.
Reporting for The Nation on January 28, George Zornick detailed why Cruz's "doubling down on his connection with Newman" was as problematic as Newman's own appalling history of anti-choice activism. According to Zornick, Cruz praised Newman for having "led the charge for the pro-life cause" and being a "true inspiration." Yet Newman has a well-established history of harassing abortion providers and spouting violence-endorsing rhetoric against them.
As the president of the anti-choice organization Operation Rescue, Newman argued that "the murder of abortion doctors is legally permissible" and he openly harassed clinic employees. In his radical book Their Blood Cries Out, Newman suggested that 9/11, AIDS, and even California's historic drought were all punishments from God for allowing legal abortion. Newman's views are so extreme that, as The New York Times reported in 2015, Australia cancelled Newman's visa over "concerns that he might encourage violence against abortion providers or women seeking the procedures."
Most recently, Newman served as a board member of The Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the organization responsible for propagating a smear campaign so fraudulent that the organization earned the title of Media Matters' Misinformer of the Year for 2015. Last week, the president of CMP, David Daleiden, and one of his co-conspirators were indicted by a grand jury in Harris County, Texas for their involvement in this attack on Planned Parenthood. Troy Newman is no longer on the board of CMP -- as The New York Times reported, he "resigned from the center's board when Mr. Daleiden was indicted."
As The Nation's Zornick noted, Cruz also praised Tony Perkins, the leader of known hate group Family Research Council for agreeing to lead the "Pro-Life For Cruz" coalition. From The Nation:
With the Iowa caucuses only days away, Senator Ted Cruz has announced the formation of a "Pro-Lifers for Cruz" coalition that aims to "champion every child, born and unborn."
Among the national co-chairs of that coalition is Troy Newman, one of the more malevolent figures in the anti-choice movement. He is the president of the radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, and a board member at the Center for Medical Progress, which just saw two employees indicted in Houston for deceptions conducted while creating the now-infamous "baby parts" videos that targeted Planned Parenthood.
Newman has often suggested that the murder of abortion doctors is legally permissible, and his group has been connected to several notorious anti-choice acts of violence over the past 20 years.
It would be virtually impossible not to be aware of this fact--it defines Newman's career--yet Cruz said in a statement Wednesday that "Every single national co-chair in this coalition has led the charge for the pro-life cause and is a true inspiration." Newman formally endorsed Cruz back in November, which created a small stir-up in the press, and Cruz is now doubling down on his connection with Newman.
Pro-choice advocates quickly noticed Cruz's bear hug of Newman. "Given that this announcement came out after [David Daleiden's] indictment, I'm pretty shocked that he included him," said Sasha Bruce, NARAL's vice president of campaigns and strategies. "It's not enough that he made his endorsement at a presidential level of somebody who advocates violence, he has now been indicted."
Major news outlets reporting on Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-TX) newest endorser are leaving out that endorser's background as an extreme anti-gay hate group leader with ties to white supremacist groups.
Tony Perkins is the evangelical right wing activist credited with consolidating evangelical support behind Cruz in a December meeting of religious conservatives. Perkins has now formally announced his endorsement of the Texas senator, calling him "a constitutional conservative who will fight for faith, family and freedom" during a January 26 interview on Fox News' The Kelly File.
Perkins is the president of the Family Research Council (FRC), which is designated as an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center based on the group's propagation of falsehoods about LGBT people, as well as Perkins' own history of inflammatory comments. Perkins has called pedophilia a "homosexual problem," equated being gay with drug use and adultery, accused gay people of trying to "recruit" children, and compared gay rights advocates to terrorists.
In addition to his anti-gay extremism, the Southern Poverty Law Center has detailed Perkins' ties to white supremacist groups:
In 1996, while managing the U.S. Senate campaign of Woody Jenkins against Mary Landrieu, Perkins paid $82,500 to use the mailing list of former Ku Klux Klan leader and state Rep. David Duke. The campaign was fined $3,000 for filing false disclosure forms in a bid to hide the payment to Duke. Perkins has stated he did not know about the mailing list's connection to Duke.
Perkins served as a state representative for eight years, starting in 1998. On May 17, 2001, he gave a speech to the Louisiana chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a white supremacist group that has described black people as a "retrograde species of humanity." Perkins who addressed the group while standing in front of a Confederate flag, claimed not to know the group's ideology at the time, even though it had been widely publicized in Louisiana and the nation.
But while reporting on Perkins' endorsement, media outlets failed to provide any information about Perkins' anti-LGBT extremism and white supremacist ties. Time, The Associated Press, and NPR all described Perkins as president of FRC without reporting the group's hate group designation. CNN and Reuters both characterized Perkins as an influential Christian leader. Politico did note that Perkins has "been vocal as an activist against LGBT causes," but didn't further detail Perkins' anti-gay extremism.
Perkins has previously used GOP primary coverage to rise to prominence in national media outlets who failed to hold him accountable for his views while allowing him to position himself as a spokesperson for social conservative and evangelical voters.
Journalists covering the 2016 GOP primary have an opportunity to expose the extreme hate group leader who just became the face of Ted Cruz's evangelical supporters.
In a secret December 2015 meeting of top national social conservative activists, Ted Cruz won the support of a group influential evangelical Christians leaders, reported as a "major boost" for Cruz's presidential campaign. The man credited with consolidating support behind Cruz at the meeting is Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC).
As the driving force behind Cruz's consolidation of evangelical support, it's likely Perkins will become a go-to commentator for media outlets covering the GOP primary. During the 2012 primary -- during which Perkins backed former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum -- CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC all welcomed Perkins as a near-constant source of campaign commentary.
Perkins' cable news appearances for the 2016 primary cycle have already started, with a January 5 appearance on CNN's OutFront to discuss Ted Cruz's faith and Donald Trump's questioning of Cruz's citizenship:
Given the likelihood than Perkins will once again become a sought-after guest in GOP primary and election coverage, here's what news outlets should know about Cruz's extreme evangelical hype man:
In 2010, FRC was listed as an anti-gay "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center thanks to its propagation of known falsehoods about LGBT people as well as Perkins' history of making inflammatory comments about the LGBT community. Perkins has equated being gay with drug use and adultery, accused gay people of trying to "recruit" children, and compared gay advocates to terrorists.
FRC's "hate group" label is almost never mentioned by news networks that choose to treat the group like a seriously policy organization on national television. During the 2012 GOP primary, when Perkins was a regular fixture on cable news, he was never identified as a "hate group" leader. Since then, media figures that have identified Perkins as a hate group leader have faced criticism from FRC and its allies.
In addition to spreading falsehoods about LGBT people, FRC has a history of making apocalyptic warnings about government policies that advance LGBT equality.
Some examples of FRC's shoddy policy analysis include claiming that striking down same-sex marriage bans would lead to a full-scale revolution, that the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy would bring back the draft and risk millions of lives, and that hate crime laws respond to a "phony 'crisis.'"
Perkins also regularly spreads known lies about LGBT people. He's repeated the widely debunked myth that pedophilia is "a homosexual problem," promoted the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called "reparative therapy," and falsely claimed that children raised by same-sex couples fare worse than those raised by opposite-sex couples.
Mainstream media outlets regularly invite Perkins to speak on behalf of Christians and religious voters, but Perkins' brand of anti-LGBT extremism represents a far right fringe of American Christianity. In fact, a majority a US Christians now believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society.
Christian audiences have previously protested networks that give Perkins a platform. In 2012, the progressive Christian group Faithful America launched petitions asking CNN and MSNBC to stop allowing Perkins to "speak on behalf of American's Christians," generating tens of thousands of signatures.
As the face of Ted Cruz's support from religious conservatives, Perkins is poised to become another regular fixture in cable news' 2016 coverage. If that happens, it'll be those networks' responsibility to properly identify the anti-gay extremist they're putting on air.
For over a decade, gay rights opponents peddled a set of myths and fearmongering tactics to try to sway voters against marriage equality and basic rights for gay people. Now that marriage equality is the law of the land, anti-LGBT organizations have started recycling the same bogus scare tactics to target the new bogeyman of the LGBT rights movement -- the transgender community.
The "slippery slope" argument has been one of the most popular arguments used by opponents of LGBT equality, aimed at making even basic protections for LGBT people appear dangerous.
In debates over sexual orientation non-discrimination laws, opponents warned that prohibiting discrimination against gay people would begin a slippery slope towards protecting pedophilia and bestiality.
Similarly, in the debate over marriage equality, anti-gay activists predicted that allowing same-sex couples to marry would cause a slippery slope to legalized polygamy, bestiality, incest, and pedophilia.
That idea persisted even after gay couples had been legally wedding in Massachusetts for over a decade without opening "a Pandora's box." Immediately following the Supreme Court's Obergefell decision in June 2015, anti-gay advocates continued to argue that marriage equality would undermine the legal limits on who could get married.
Now that the debate over marriage equality has died down, the "transgender slippery slope" argument is emerging in debates over protections for trans people. Opponents suggest that allowing transgender people to define their gender identity would open the floodgates, with people claiming to be a cat, a flower, or a Cocker Spaniel. Fox News and other conservative media outlets have deemed non-discrimination protections for transgender people a "slippery slope." As one prominent anti-LGBT group declared, accommodating transgender people is "not a slippery slope, but a trap door to sexual nihilism."
Opponents of legal protections for gay people have also warned that these protections threaten religious liberty -- specifically the religious liberty of Christians who oppose homosexuality. One of the most commonly cited myths in the fight against marriage equality was the idea that legalizing same-sex marriage would cause churches or pastors to be forced to marry gay couples, despite clear religious exemptions in marriage equality legislation. Anti-LGBT groups like the National Organization for Marriage, Alliance Defending Freedom , and Family Research Council (FRC) hyped claims that pastors and churches were in danger of being forced to perform same-sex marriages.
Despite the obvious constitutional protections for churches and ministers, both conservative and mainstream media outlets parroted religious liberty talking points, even years after states began legalizing same-sex marriage without issue.
Baseless concerns about religious liberty are now playing a major part in debates about accommodations for transgender people. In March, Fox News contributor Erick Erickson claimed that a broad "religious freedom" law was needed to protect churches from being forced to build gender neutral bathrooms. In the same vein, the anti-LGBT legal organization leading the fight against accommodating transgender students claimed that these protections somehow violate the "religious liberty" of other students. And in November, an anti-gay hate-group successfully canceled a school reading of the trans-supportive picture book "I Am Jazz," with the claim that reading the book would "undermin[e] the religious free exercise" of teachers and students.
Opponents of gay equality used to be wildly effective at invoking concerns about the safety of children to argue against basic protections for gay people.
For decades, the myth that gay men are more likely to engage in pedophilia than straight men has been a central right-wing talking point. Anti-LGBT organizations frequently employed the talking point to argue against marriage equality, allowing gay parents to adopt children, and even accepting gay Boy Scout troop leaders.
Though the pedophilia talking point has fallen out of favor with mainstream anti-gay groups, fearmongering about children's well-being remains a central focus of anti-gay politics. Opponents of gay equality regularly cite pseudoscience to falsely argue that the children of gay parents fare less well than the children of straight parents. Others warn that prohibiting anti-gay discrimination would cause gay people to have "inappropriate" jobs like school teachers.
Child-focused fearmongering has been incredibly effective in anti-LGBT politics. In a 2012 report, Political Research Associates noted that the "harm to kids" theme had a "clear, negative impact on how voters felt about same-sex marriage." Even people who generally support LGBT equality become anxious when opponents warn about potential harm to children.
Which helps explain why anti-LGBT groups are using nearly identical talking points in attacks on transgender equality. In cities and states across the country, opponents of non-discrimination protections for transgender people have adopted the myth that these protections would be exploited by sexual predators looking to enter women's bathrooms and commit sexual assault -- especially against young girls. Government experts, advocates for sexual assault victims, and law enforcement officials have debunked that talking point, but it continues to dominate debates about transgender equality.
In November, opponents of transgender equality in Houston, Texas successfully demonstrated how horror stories about children's safety can impact public and media discussions about trans non-discrimination. The city's broad non-discrimination law was repealed following a public misinformation campaign that relied heavily on an ad picturing a man following a young girl into a public bathroom stall:
The transgender community continues to face astronomical rates of harassment and discrimination at work, in school, in public places, and even from law enforcement. While public attitudes about same-sex marriage and acceptance of homosexuality shifted considerably over the past decade, acceptance of transgender people has lagged behind. Given that only 16 percent of Americans personally know someone who is transgender, it's still common for anti-LGBT groups to spread myths about the transgender community with impunity.
But these myths aren't new -- and journalists should recognize that the talking points being used to attack transgender equality are the same bogus, recycled attacks that anti-LGBT groups have been peddling against gay people for years.
After NPR's The Diane Rehm Show hosted a spokesman from a notorious anti-gay hate group during a discussion of same-sex adoption, NPR's ombudsman admitted that the show erred in failing to properly identify the group.
On the December 10 edition of NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, guest host Melissa Ross interviewed Peter Sprigg, Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council (FRC), to discuss legal battles over parenting and adoption rights for same-sex couples. While the Southern Poverty Law Center has listed FRC as an anti-gay hate group since 2010, NPR didn't identify Sprigg as a hate group spokesman, and Sprigg used the platform to peddle misinformation about LGBT equality.
In a post responding to criticisms of the segment, NPR's ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen joined Diane Rehm in acknowledging that the show erred by "not us[ing] a clear identifier" for Sprigg. Rehm admitted that she has "to do a better job of being more careful about identification":
I heard from many people after Media Matters for America, which calls itself a "progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media," wrote a blog post objecting to a guest on the Dec. 10 Diane Rehm Show (which had a guest host, Melissa Ross, that day). Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, was one of four guests invited to discuss the day's topic: legal battles over parenting and adoption rights for same-sex couples.
Media Matters wrote that NPR (which distributes the show but does not produce it) gave Sprigg "a national platform to peddle misinformation about same-sex parenting." The organization Faithful America also sent an email blast that said: "Tell NPR: Don't let anti-gay hate group speak for Christians."
In the last 45 seconds of the program, as Ross was focused on wrapping up, Sprigg said that "most orthodox Christians" believe that "engaging in homosexual conduct is contrary to the will of God," a claim that depends on the murky definition of "orthodox Christians." (See this May 2015 Pew Research Center poll looking at Americans' attitudes over whether their religious beliefs are in conflict with homosexuality.) But as I read the transcript, the show's other guests forcefully pushed back against Sprigg's other claims at pretty much every turn.
I asked Rehm about the guest booking. Her view (with which I agree): "I certainly don't see that there's a problem having someone like that on the program." Where the show erred, she said, "was we did not use a clear identifier [for Sprigg] other than the title of his organization." She added, "We have to do a better job of being more careful about identification."
NPR hosted a spokesman from a notorious anti-gay hate group during a discussion of same-sex adoption, giving him a national platform to peddle misinformation about same-sex parenting.
On the December 10 edition of NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, guest host Melissa Ross interviewed Peter Sprigg, Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council (FRC) to discuss legal battles over parenting and adoption rights for same-sex couples.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed FRC as an anti-gay hate group since 2010 due to the organization's propagation of known falsehoods about LGBT people. The group has a history of making wild and inflammatory attacks on LGBT equality while masquerading as a serious policy organization in the media. Sprigg, who served as an ordained Baptist minister before joining FRC, has called for recriminalizing gay sex in the U.S. and suggested LGBT people should be "export[ed]" from the country.
But NPR didn't identify Sprigg as a hate group spokesman, and Sprigg used the platform to peddle misinformation about LGBT equality. Sprigg cited a widely discredited paper to suggest that children raised by same-sex couples perform poorly, and resurrected the long debunked horror story that Catholic adoption agencies have been shut down for refusing to serve same-sex couples. While guest host Melissa Ross did not push back on Sprigg's talking points, fellow guest Emily Hetch-McGowan, Director of Public Policy the Family Equality Council, called out FRC's use of discredited research:
PETER SPRIGG: And I think that certainly there is abundant reason to believe that children do best when raised by a married mother and father. And within the context of foster care the judge has an obligation to do what's in the best interest of the child. And he exercised that discretion.
MELISSA ROSS: And what research does the Family Research Council cite to buttress the claim that a child is better off with a heterosexual couple?
SPRIGG: Well, there's an abundance of research showing that children do better overall when raised by their own married biological father who are committed to one another in a life-long marriage. There are just reams of research showing that. Now this is a slightly different situation because of the fact that you're dealing with a situation where they are being removed from their biological parents. But we think that there is evidence to suggest that children would do better with a mother and father even if it's not their biological parents.
Tony Perkins, a right-wing radio talk show host and president of the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council (FRC), has hosted most of the Republican presidential candidates on his radio show or at FRC-sponsored events.
On October 27, mainstream political figures, members of right-wing media, and domestic and foreign anti-LGBT extremists will gather in Salt Lake City, Utah, for the World Congress of Families' (WCF) ninth international gathering. While the World Congress of Families bills itself as a global coalition of "pro-family" organizations, it has deep ties to extremist anti-LGBT movements abroad, and its gathering will serve as a meeting point for well-known US anti-gay extremists to interact with mainstream US politicians and conservative media figures, along with international anti-LGBT activists who support efforts to criminalize homosexuality.
As Donald Trump continues to wage a public fight with Fox News, several of his GOP primary rivals spoke with Media Matters at this weekend's Values Voter Summit about his feud with the conservative network and media coverage of the Republican primary.
Trump and Fox have been in a back and forth fight for much of the past two months. Last week, Trump announced that he was planning to boycott Fox News "for the foreseeable future" because the network has supposedly been treating him "very unfairly." Fox chief Roger Ailes and other "senior Fox editorial executives" are reportedly set to meet with Trump this week in an effort to smooth things over.
"All you have to do is look at the airtime, look at the airtime," former Fox News contributor Rick Santorum told Media Matters when asked about the Trump effect.
As Media Matters has documented, despite Trump's regular complaints about Fox's coverage of his campaign, he has dominated his Republican rivals in interview airtime on the network. From May through August, Trump garnered 10 hours and 21 minutes of interview airtime, more than three times as much as Santorum, who had just over 3 hours.
Asked by Media Matters when he would return to Fox, Trump said, "We'll see, we'll see. They have to treat me fairly and I'm sure they will. I'm sure they will."
Such a return is likely to keep the overwhelming media focus on Trump, prompting mixed reactions from his rivals.
"They're like a moth drawn to the flame," South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said about Fox's Trump coverage. "You can't help but cover it."
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal objected to candidates decrying media coverage, saying, "Any Republican or conservative that complains about the media, I think that's foolishness. There's nothing you can do about that, go out and talk directly to voters. "
While he was critical of Trump, Jindal conceded that he is "great for ratings."
"I've said over and over I think Trump is an egomaniac, he's not a conservative, he's not a liberal, he's not an independent," Jindal said. "He only believes in himself, I think he's great entertainment, he's great for ratings."
Former Fox News employee Dr. Ben Carson indicated he was happy with Fox News' primary coverage so far, telling Media Matters, "I've never had any problems with Fox News, I don't feel any problem, I am happy with what's going on."
Carson has good reason to be happy. Earlier this month, New York magazine reporter and Roger Ailes biographer Gabriel Sherman reported that Ailes "has been impressed by Carson, a former Fox pundit, and is promoting his candidacy inside the network." Sherman also quoted an anonymous Fox personality telling him, "Roger has told producers to push Carson and put him on whenever he wants to go on."
Tony Perkins is the head of one of the most extreme anti-gay hate groups in the country, yet media outlets continue to give him a platform that enables him to play a major role in mainstream conservative politics.
In 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) labeled Perkins' group, the Family Research Council (FRC), an anti-gay hate group, due in part to Perkins' history of making inflammatory comments about the LGBT community. Perkins has called pedophilia "a homosexual problem," accused gay people of recruiting children, and compared gay advocates to terrorists.
Despite FRC's extremism, mainstream media outlets have treated Perkins as a credible and legitimate conservative commentator, regularly inviting him to speak on behalf of Christians without identifying him as a hate monger.
The media's forgiving treatment of Perkins has allowed him to establish himself as a powerful force in Republican politics, using his national platform to pressure politicians who don't act in lockstep with FRC's extremism. Perkins' influence is especially evident at FRC's annual Values Voter Summit, a conservative political conference that has become a must-attend event for rising GOP politicians. This week, Republican presidential candidates will attend FRC's Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. to vie for social conservatives' support. And they'll likely do so without worrying that major media outlets will scrutinize them for cozying up to a known hate group.
Failing to hold Perkins and FRC accountable for their anti-LGBT extremism isn't just bad journalism -- it proactively lends credibility to an organization that works tirelessly to attack and dehumanize LGBT people. As SPLC's Heidi Beirich explained, "If people were better informed about what FRC has said in the past... they'd be much less likely to be snowed by anything that comes out of Perkins' mouth or comes out of FRC."
It's long past time for media outlets to stop giving Perkins a pass and start giving their audiences the full story behind who's leading the fight against LGBT equality.
Video created by Leanne Naramore.
Fox News hosts have used the controversy surrounding Rowan County, Kentucky clerk Kim Davis to repeatedly hawk the new book from a man considered one of America's most extreme and prominent anti-gay hate-group leaders.
Tony Perkins is the president of the Family Research Council (FRC), an organization that has been labeled a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center for spreading damaging lies about gay people, including the myth that they are more likely to engage in pedophilia.
Perkins' latest book, No Fear, was published on September 8 and tells the stories of "young people who have taken a stand for Biblical truth," including Aaaron and Melissa Klein, the Oregon bakers who were fined after refusing to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple. The book is a collection of misleading culture war stories aimed at depicting conservative Christians as the victims of religious persecution by liberals.
That's a popular narrative on Fox News, so it's not surprising that the network has promoted the book repeatedly during its news programming, playing off the controversy surrounding Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk who went to jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples:
Fox's knee-jerk endorsement of Perkin's book is also self-serving: Perkins himself admitted that many of the stories in No Fear were pulled from Fox's reporting.
Perkins and the Family Research Council have long benefited from their relationship with Fox News. Todd Starnes, the network's serially misinformed culture war reporter, regularly turns FRC press releases into national news stories, while FRC touts the network's reporting to reinforce its Christian persecution narratives about LGBT equality.
Perkins has also found a close ally in Fox anchor Megyn Kelly, who has hosted the hate group leader more frequently on her show than any other Fox News program has, regularly giving his anti-gay extremism a veneer of mainstream credibility.
With Fox News giving Perkins free airtime to promote his book, the network has become both a political and financial asset to one of the country's most extreme anti-gay hate groups.
Right-wing media, particularly Fox News, immediately jumped at the chance to blame the Black Lives Matter movement after a gunman killed a Texas police officer at a suburban Houston gas station, going so far as to label it a hate group. Not only are both these charges incontrovertibly false, but the network itself has a long history of promoting organizations identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as "hate groups":
Como respuesta a la histórica resolución de la Corte Suprema de Justicia a favor de la igualdad matrimonial, los medios conservadores están apoyando una nueva ley federal llamada "Ley Defensora de la Primera Enmienda" (FADA por sus siglas en inglés). A pesar de que los conservadores están promoviendo FADA como un esfuerzo para proteger la libertad religiosa, críticos advierten que la ley podría poner en peligro la capacidad del gobierno para combatir la discriminación anti-gay.
In response to the Supreme Court's historic marriage equality ruling, conservative media has endorsed a newly proposed federal bill called the "First Amendment Defense Act" (FADA). Though conservatives have touted FADA as an effort to protect religious liberty, critics warn the bill would undermine the government's ability to combat anti-gay discrimination.
One week before the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, a group of the country's most prominent anti-LGBT activists met at the Skyline megachurch in San Diego to discuss what their next steps should be in the fight against LGBT equality.
The meeting was part of the 2015 Future Conference, an event organized by Skyline Pastor Jim Garlow in order to respond to "the thorniest and most challenging issues in the current cultural landscape."
In promotional materials for the gathering, Garlow warned "our nation is in trouble" due to the lack of a "clear proclamation of biblical answers to the messiness of our culture." According to Garlow, pastors can no longer speak out about things like homosexuality because they are considered "political."
The four-day conference, which Media Matters attended undercover, featured presentations covering a range of issues -- from the threat of Islam to "biblical economics" -- but its unifying theme was the alleged rise of Christian persecution across the globe, and especially in the United States as a result of growing acceptance of LGBT people.
The list of over 50 speakers spanned the conservative political landscape and included members of Congress, Fox News contributors, and prominent right-wing activists. Senator James Lankford (R-OK), Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA), and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich submitted video remarks. There was even a presentation from Suzan Johnson Cook, former Obama administration Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
The conference also featured speeches from some of the most prominent anti-LGBT groups in the country, including several organizations designated as "hate groups" by the Southern Poverty Law Center: the Family Research Council (FRC), Liberty Counsel, and Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM).
Shielded from the eyes and ears of major media, speakers at the Future Conference expressed the kind of casual homophobia that would otherwise offend mainstream audiences. More importantly, they discussed their plans for dealing with a country seems increasingly determined to protect LGBT people from discrimination.
Speakers at the Future Conference presented many of the same homophobic talking points that have defined the religious right for the past several years. Many disparaged same-sex relationships as destructive and unhealthy. Frank Schubert -- the political strategist behind many of the country's most successful anti-LGBT campaigns -- told his audience that "sexual entanglements" between gay men pose "substantial risk of harm," and called gay sex "inherently unhealthy":
Others decried LGBT activists as being overly-aggressive and totalitarian. "The rainbow flag of tolerance has become the dark flag of tyranny overnight," warned Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University. Conservative columnist Star Parker lamented that "homosexuality is now dividing us and bringing hostility into the public square. They're coming out of the closet -- they're forcing the church in." Michael Brown, an anti-LGBT activist known for showing up at gay pride events to badger attendees, declared that the "gay revolution has within itself the seeds of self-destruction."
FRC Vice President for Church Ministries Kenyn Cureton, in a presentation about mobilizing churches to get involved in political battles, described LGBT activists as "pawns of a malevolent master."
Outside the conference's main auditorium, organizations set up displays to hand out promotional materials about their work. FRC's display included copies of its "Debating Homosexuality" booklet, which falsely claims that gay men are more likely to engage in pedophilia than heterosexual men.
The Future Conference's homophobic content was unsurprising given the venue. In 2008, Garlow's Skyline Church was at the epicenter of the religious fight against California's Proposition 8. At the time, Garlow convened a call with 1,000 ministers to discuss tactics for banning same-sex marriage in the state -- tactics that ultimately proved successful in mobilizing religious support for the ballot measure.
Less than a decade later, Garlow and his allies were meeting under very different circumstances.
Same-sex marriage had become legal in a majority of states, including California. Public opinion was firmly in favor of marriage equality, and religious opposition to same-sex marriage was giving way to religious acceptance and support. Most speakers were correctly predicting that Obergefell would result in the Supreme Court legalizing nationwide marriage equality.
That looming reality gave the Future Conference a sense of urgent and sober realism. Beyond making their typical anti-gay remarks, speakers explained how they planned to stop, or at least slow, the push for LGBT equality in America.
One of the recurring themes at the Future Conference, especially in reference to Obergefell, was the suggestion that Christians are not obligated to obey the laws of man if they contradict the laws of God.
In a video message to the conference. Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver compared a Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage equality to Dred Scott, the infamous Supreme Court decision that found African Americans were not American citizens. "Our highest respect for a higher law," Staver said, "requires that we not give respect to an unjust decision." He explicitly suggested that religious adoption agencies should refuse to place children in households headed by same-sex couples, adding that the Supreme Court lacked the power to enforce its decisions.
That sentiment was echoed by several other speakers, including Schubert, who argued that a constitutional convention might be needed to override an "illegitimate" decision on same-sex marriage from the Supreme Court. NOM's Brian Brown touted his organization's "Presidential Marriage Pledge," which -- in addition to calling for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage -- asks presidential candidates to pledge to work to "overturn any Supreme Court decision that illegitimately finds a constitutional 'right' to the redefinition of marriage."
The civil disobedience canard has gained popularity among anti-LGBT activists and even GOP presidential candidates, who have similarly compared Obergefell to Dred Scott and suggested that Americans should simply refuse to acknowledge the Supreme Court's authority.
Speakers also touted efforts to undermine and sidestep non-discrimination laws that would prohibit them from discriminating against LGBT people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Steve Riggle, a Houston pastor at the center of the national controversy surrounding Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) earlier this year, decried the city's attempt to extend "special rights" to LGBT people, peddling the myth that sexual predators would exploit the law by pretending to be transgender and sneaking into women's restrooms.
In a session titled "Homosexual Marriage - Obliterating Religious Liberty," Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) senior counsel Kevin Theriot warned audience members that non-discrimination laws threaten the freedom of churches and businesses to act out their faith. ADF has been at the forefront of representing business owners who refuse service to gay customers, arguing that religious businesses should be exempt from non-discrimination protections. It's also the group behind the national push for state "religious freedom" laws, which would give business owners a legal defense for refusing service to gay customers. He offered audience members copies of ADF's booklet "Protecting Your Ministry," which offers advice on how for-profit businesses and churches can avoid non-discrimination lawsuits.
"Are you willing to do what it takes to prepare yourself for the coming onslaught?" Theriot asked before describing how churches might insulate themselves from discrimination complaints. One tactic, advised Theriot, is to take advantage of the ministerial exemption to non-discrimination laws by broadly defining "ministers" to include employees like IT technicians and food bank workers.
NOM's Brown encouraged attendees to throw their support behind the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), which had just been introduced in Congress and would shield businesses and individuals from being denied tax exemptions, grants, licenses, certifications, or grants from the federal government as a result of their opposition to same-sex marriage. FADA has been criticized for creating a national license-to-discriminate against gays and lesbians, but the measure has since quickly gained support among anti-LGBT groups and conservative media outlets.
Beyond a political agenda, speakers at the Future Conference also talked a great deal about influencing public debates about LGBT issues, especially through the media.
Ted Baehr, Chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission, touted efforts to inject Christian themes and imagery into mainstream television and film. Shows like "Will & Grace," he argued, had gotten society comfortable with an "illegal, demonic form of marriage." Using Hollywood to expose the public to Christian values is, according to Baehr, a key step in turning the tide in America's culture war.
Other speakers were more concerned with coverage of LGBT issues in news outlets. In a presentation titled "Dealing With Media," conservative author and right-wing activist Jason Mattera suggested that the key to winning public opinion was to invert the dominant media narrative about LGBT equality by decrying LGBT activists as intolerant bullies while painting religious conservatives as the real victims in the culture war.
Leftists are "the most intolerant, bigoted people on the planet. And that is, they want Christianity purged from the public square," Mattera declared. He urged his audience to portray the fight for LGBT equality as intolerant when talking to reporters or appearing on TV: "Why do they hate diversity? Why do they hate tolerance? I'm for a multiplicity of viewpoints. Isn't that what America is about? Why does that person want to compel me to do something I don't want? What is it about fascism that appeals to them?"
That "flip the script" tactic -- essentially calling LGBT activists bullies -- has been widely successful in influencing conservative media coverage of the fight for LGBT equality in recent years. Stories about anti-gay bakers and florists who are fined for refusing service to gay customers have helped motivate the recent wave of "religious freedom" laws and gin up opposition to non-discrimination efforts that protect LGBT people.
Despite the Future Conference's anti-gay rhetoric, a recurring theme was the need to mimic the very tactics used by the LGBT community to win acceptance from American public. Conservative activist Lance Wallnau lauded the LGBT movement for its unified and media-savvy public relations efforts, encouraging his audience to look at the success of the fight for same-sex marriage as a blueprint for how conservatives might take back the culture war.
Near the end of the conference, NOM's Brown warned conference-goers that "the days of comfortable Christianity are over":
BROWN: Things have been good a long time for us. We don't experience the sort of persecution that we're witnessing in the Middle East. We don't fear for our lives in coming together and worshipping. We've felt for a long time that we're a part of dominant culture. And over the course of the last decade or so, maybe a little longer, we've realized that's not the case. Things are starting to change, and that, to put it bluntly, the days of comfortable Christianity are over.
A Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage equality, Brown argued, would put conservative activists in the same position that anti-abortion activists were in after Roe v. Wade.
That sentiment, echoed by many of the conference's speakers, represents a seismic shift in the way that anti-LGBT groups and activists have oriented their work. Their political agenda, which once prioritized a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, has become largely defensive, focused on staving off the rising tide of LGBT equality.
That agenda is no less dangerous -- threatening even the most basic non-discrimination protections for LGBT people. But it also represents the new reality facing the anti-LGBT right after Obergefell. Having lost the national debate over same-sex marriage, anti-LGBT conservatives are adapting to a political environment that increasingly pits their animus against the force of the state and public opinion. How the religious right chooses to deal with that new reality -- whether with disobedience, resignation, or legal maneuvering -- will set the stage for the next phase of the fight over LGBT equality.