Conservatives on
the edge

Conservatives on
            the edge

In late October
the Kansas supreme court issued a remarkably sensible
pro-gay ruling: It struck down the portion of a state law
that punished underage sex more severely if it
involved homosexual acts.

The case involved
Matthew Limon, who in 2000 was found guilty of
performing consensual oral sex on a 14-year-old boy when
Limon was 18. He was sent off to prison for 17 years.
Had Limon had sex with a girl, state law would have
dictated a maximum sentence of 15 months. (The statute
protects heterosexual lovers when one is 18 or younger and
the age difference between the two is no more than
four years.) The unanimous Kansas court found that
having different punishments for gay and straight sex
acts was plainly unconstitutional. “Moral disapproval
of a group cannot be a legitimate governmental
interest,” wrote Justice Marla J. Luckert for
the court.

The month before,
also in Kansas, the Republican chairwoman of the state
legislature’s committee on children’s issues
tabled a proposal to outlaw adoption by gays and

And the state
senate majority leader, Derek Schmidt, also Republican, was
fine with that. “In the great scheme of issues that
need to be resolved by the legislature, this
isn’t at the top of the list,” Schmidt said.

Yes, this is the
same state where 70% of voters in April backed an
amendment to the state’s constitution enshrining
marriage discrimination against gays. The same state
with two Republican U.S. senators who could compete
for a “most antigay” award.

While the
national news—along with the Bush
administration—has been consumed with a series
of hurricanes, indictments against top Republican
operatives, eroding support for the war in Iraq, soaring gas
prices and oil company profits, and controversial
Supreme Court nominations, equality has been creeping
in around the edges.

Even in Kansas,
one of the reddest of the red states.

Other 2005
victories have also been largely unheralded by the
mainstream media: Connecticut began granting same-sex
civil unions without any court order to do so.
Massachusetts legislators, who in 2004 had backed a
constitutional amendment to overturn marriage equality
there, this year soundly defeated the same measure.
Tennessee ordered that a residential
“reparative therapy” program for gay teens
called Love in Action be closed; notorious for
16-year-old Web logger Zach Stark (enrolled by his
parents against his will), it operated as a mental health
services facility—and allegedly controlled
access to enrollees’
prescriptions—without a license. California,
Washington, and Pennsylvania courts, over five cases,
decreed that the parenting rights and responsibilities
of a nonbiological gay or lesbian parent (including
custody) continue even after their same-sex relationship

more: The best female basketball player in history came out
to scant media coverage and zero backlash. About 1,000
more gay-straight alliances were established in high
schools nationwide. Human Rights Campaign noted that
84% of Fortune 500 companies had antidiscrimination
policies covering LGBT workers’ sexual orientation.
And as The Advocate went to press, activists in
Maine were optimistic that a majority of voters in
November would decide to retain a law banning antigay
discrimination; polls at press time showed support for the
law at around 60%.

there’s been bad news as well, amply reported in
these pages: antigay violence, legal setbacks, almost
any news out of Texas. But on the national stage the
thundering of the antigay far right has, for the
moment, quieted to a dull roar. If you doubt that, remember
the Right’s grandstanding just 12 months ago,
after George W. Bush won a thin majority to keep his
job: “In your reelection, God has graciously granted
America—though she doesn’t deserve it—a
reprieve from the agenda of paganism….,”
the president of fundamentalist Bob Jones University
famously wrote to the president. “Don’t
equivocate. Put your agenda on the front burner and
let it boil.”

Well, the Bush
White House has indeed been boiling over in recent weeks,
but it hasn’t been in the service of fighting gay and
lesbian pagans. “From what we’re seeing,
the Republican Party is realizing if we want to stay
the majority party, then we need to abandon the
Right’s divisive social agenda,” says
Christopher Barron, political director for national
gay rights group Log Cabin Republicans. “I think
their 15 minutes are over.”

To be fair, we
should note that Barron spoke before the tepid Harriet
Miers was replaced by steadfast ideologue Samuel Alito as
Bush’s latest Supreme Court nominee. But that
nomination tends to underline rather than contradict
the fact that Bush and the Republican leadership have for
some time been neglecting the conservative social
agenda of his far-right supporters.

Republicans are in a whole heap of trouble [with Christian
conservatives] over the Miers nomination,” says Jay
Campbell, a pollster with the left-leaning firm Peter
D. Hart Research Associates, who says those voters
“could stay home from the polls if they stay mad
about Miers.” After the Miers debacle, the
choice of Alito appears to be less a definitive
indication of the far right’s influence than a
make-good for promises not kept.

At the moment
Bush may not have the political capital to push an
antiequality agenda that—aside from
marriage—most Americans oppose. In national
polls, approval of Bush hovers at or below 40%, the lowest
of his presidency. Only 28% of those polled think the
country is heading in the right direction, according
to an October NBC News–Wall Street
poll. Such negative numbers haven’t been
seen regardless of party since
1993–94—just before the Republicans took over
leadership of the House and Senate from the Democrats
in November 1994.

Some of those
hardest hit by bad news and all-consuming crises have been
those best known for thumping their antigay positions: U.S.
representative Tom DeLay, forced to step down as House
majority leader to fight money laundering and campaign
finance violations charges in Texas; U.S. Senate
majority leader Bill Frist, under investigation by the
Securities and Exchange Commission for possible insider
trading; I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, whose
indictments for perjury and obstruction of justice
lost him his job as chief of staff to Dick Cheney, thus
severely handicapping the vice president’s
political machine; and Karl Rove, Bush’s deputy
chief of staff and the architect of the Republicans’
“bash the gays” ballot-box strategy in
2004, who’s still in danger of indictment by
the same special prosecutor who nailed Libby.

Where we stand,
then, is at a moment of opportunity for the forces of
progress and fairness. Antigay political leaders are
hobbled, and swing voters are ready to throw their
support behind new leaders. But it’s not gay
rights they’re worried about: It’s Iraq, gas
prices, hurricane relief, health care costs, and
national security.

current political environment suggests we are ripe for
change, but it is not quite as obvious what kind of
change voters will want,” says Amy Walter, a
senior editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report,
which issues political analysis online.

equally unclear why a majority of swing voters backed Bush
in 2004. The national media’s Election Day exit
poll showed Iraq and terrorism of equal concern to
voters—just behind their chief worry, “moral
values,” which got the lion’s share of
attention. However, a month later, a poll by Pew
Research Center, posing the question differently, had moral
values at 9% and Iraq at 27%.

“I think a
lot of people misinterpret what the voters meant by the term
‘values,’ ” says Walters.
“People think it means voters based their
decision on issues like abortion and gay marriage. But in
fact what they meant was [that] they respected the
candidates’ set of values.” That
includes intangibles such as honesty and integrity, measures
on which the Republican leadership is now falling far

After all, what
brought down rampaging far-right senator Joseph McCarthy
in the 1950s was not a swell of support for the Communists
and homosexuals he was rooting out of the military and
the government. It was that he simply had “no
sense of decency.”

The 2006 midterm
election is still a year away—and as this discussion
itself proves, anything can happen in a year. And whether or
not you view the Democrats as being more friendly to
gay equality, voters abandoning the Republicans
don’t automatically start liking the Democrats.
“Just because people are mad at their current
leaders, the voters don’t just wake up one
morning and say I’m going to vote for candidates with
a progressive agenda,” Campbell says.

Gay Democrats at
least smell an opening. National Stonewall Democrats
executive director Eric Stern says his staffers call state
party directors constantly, offering LGBT volunteers
and other help. “You can bet these Democratic
candidates will remember us,” he says. “The
American public is hungry for change. You can be
certain they will take a fresh look at progressive

Gay Republicans
too are optimistic. “We’re starting to hear
more from moderate Republicans,” says Barron of
Log Cabin. “They are standing up, despite the
radical right.” He notes that “30 Republicans
voted for hate-crimes legislation that was
trans-inclusive” in passing the historic bill
in the U.S. House in September. “Sure, we’d
love to see more than 30, but we think the number of
Republicans who support us will grow.”

Perhaps some of
the greatest hopes for 2005 and 2006 lie not in party
leaders but in gay people themselves, running for office on
either ticket. Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund president
Chuck Wolfe confirms that more openly gay Republicans
are running for office this year than last because the
political climate has improved—for instance,
there’s now a lack of enthusiasm for a federal
constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
“No matter what party you vote for, we see that as a
sign that more gay people think they can win in this
climate,” he says.

The fact that
antigay forces continue to wield e-mail lists and budgets
in the millions—compared with a tiny fraction of that
for gay activist groups—is both a sobering
caveat and a lesson about how the progress of equality
defies number-crunching.

When Lynne Bowman
of Equality Ohio goes to work, she simply walks from
her kitchen to her small office at her home near Columbus.
She says that when she started her organization in
June, she became the state’s first paid staffer
for an LGBT rights organization. In contrast, her antigay
counterpart, televangelist Rod Parsley of Reformation Ohio,
who has the resources of his giant World Harvest
Church in Columbus, launched his organization in
October with $30 million in pledged support, as 2006
gubernatorial candidate J. Kenneth Blackwell (who presided
over the controversial Bush-Kerry vote count as
Ohio’s secretary of state) stood by his side at
a public ceremony. Reformation Ohio’s explicit goals
include “evangelizing” 1 million Ohioans,
converting 100,000 to born-again Christianity, and
registering 400,000 as voters.

Bowman is determined to battle Parsley and his allies at a
grassroots level with the simple power of the truth.
“We realized that each and every one of us just
has to vow to make sure that never again can we let
the Right make critical decisions about our lives based on
such horrible misconceptions of who we are and what our
community stands for in this country,” she

And with the
national push for antigay discrimination temporarily
dampened, perhaps the people at the grass roots are ready to
hear that message