Right-wing commentators are cynically leveraging a horrific story of alleged child sexual abuse to drum up opposition to adoption by gay and lesbian couples.
The right’s hateful anti-LGBTQ vitriol — and the GOP’s cruel legislative efforts in response — have largely focused in recent years on trans people and drag queens. But old-fashioned gay-bashing hasn’t died out on the right, with influential figures continuing to target same-sex couples who want to participate in institutions typically praised by American conservatives, like marriage and parenthood.
On Wednesday night, Fox host Laura Ingraham used her prime-time show to detail the case against William and Zachary Zulock, who in August were arrested in Georgia and charged with sexually abusing their two adopted boys. It’s an appalling story, but also appallingly familiar — sexual abuse by household members is unnervingly common, particularly for children who pass through the foster care system.
Ingraham’s apparent pretext for focusing her viewers’ attention on this particular case is that the Zulocks are “LGBTQ activists,” the evidence for which is apparently that they did things like march in Atlanta’s annual Pride parade and post social media content in favor of LGBTQ rights. But her guest, Mia Cathell, who authored a multi-part series on the case for the right-wing website TownHall.com, gave the game away when she said that the problem the story exposes is that “a same-sex couple was able to receive services” from the adoption agency.
Daily Wire commentator Matt Walsh chimed in on Twitter, saying that “we let male couples adopt children and then act surprised when this happens. It's not surprising.” He added: “Horrific, infuriating, gut-wrenchingly disgusting and evil. But not surprising.”
Right-wing influencer Charlie Kirk likewise claimed on his Thursday podcast that the story shows that “monogamous heterosexual marriage should be a prerequisite” for adoption.
While polls once showed broad opposition to same-sex couples adopting, those numbers have plummeted in recent decades. Gallup’s most recent finding was that 75% of Americans say that gays and lesbians should be allowed to adopt. People like Cathell, Walsh, and Kirk are apparently among the 23% who still disagree.
As gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans won historic civil rights advances, some reporters suggested that the right had become more supportive of that community. And to some extent, as support for gay rights increased in the U.S., right-wing commentators did shift their focus to instead target trans people.
But there have been a series of moments in which this pretense that the American right is merely opposed to trans rights, not the rights of LGBTQ people at large, has fallen away.
This becomes particularly apparent when a high-profile same-sex couple become parents.
For example, when Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) tweeted in December that his daughter and her wife were having a baby, right-wing troll Stephen L. Miller responded, “Explain this.” He then followed up with:
It's not anti-trans. It's not bigoted. It's not hate speech. Just explain it. Explain that statement. Sit down, look into a camera and explain it. That's all. Explain it. “Sir, can two women who aren't dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park movie have a baby?” This isn't hard journalism stuff.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson offered a similarly snide and reactionary take in 2021 after Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and his husband adopted twins. “Pete Buttigieg has been on leave from his job since August after adopting a child. Paternity leave, they call it, trying to figure out how to breastfeed. No word on how that went,” he sneered.
Even Dave Rubin, a gay YouTuber and frequent Fox guest whose political commentary is focused on critiques of “wokeism,” hasn’t escaped salvos from the anti-gay right. He received a backlash last year after announcing that he and his husband were adopting two children via surrogacy.
Likewise, same-sex marriage, which became broadly accepted over the last decade, still has its opponents on the right. As the bipartisan Respect for Marriage Act approached final passage in December, Walsh and his Daily Wire colleague Ben Shapiro tried to torpedo the legislation. Shapiro argued that any Republican elected official who voted to support same-sex marriage “should not be in the Republican Party,” while Walsh called for its GOP supporters to be “exiled from the party.” Other right-wing commentators termed the bill “an exercise in tyranny” and “radical.”