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Op-ed: How Can Extreme Homophobes Still Win Elections?

Op-ed: How Can Extreme Homophobes Still Win Elections?


Someone who was kicked out of the Navy for his extremist religious view can still win a Republican primary in some places.

Gordon Klingenschmitt, the former Navy chaplain who claims he was kicked out of the Navy simply for wanting to "pray in Jesus' name," has defeated Republican primary challenger Dave Williams in Colorado's House District 15. This is currently an open seat vacated by incumbent Republican Mark Waller. Klingenschmitt is a familiar entity on my national television and radio program The David Pakman Show, first appearing October 21, 2010, and returning many times since.

Klingenschmitt has been more than polite to me over the years. The case with many extremist conservatives I interview, including Klingenschmitt, is that their personal interactions do not match the hateful and damaging rhetoric of their political views. The former Navy chaplain has been the subject of many viral interviews on my program where his claims have ranged from assertions that he has performed many "gay exorcisms" with a roughly 50 percent success rate in removing the subject's homosexuality to explanations of gay demons that can infect animals.

In another interview Klingenschmitt referred to Jesus as a "biologist" who was opposed to "three women and a dog" marriage. In a 2012 interview Klingenschmitt asserted that everyone is born heterosexual but that marketing can turn some people gay. Curiously, he once expounded on his decades-long marriage; he proudly claims his wife is the only person he has ever had sex with.

One of the most memorable interactions I had with the man who goes by the name "Chaps" was in November 2012, when I moderated a debate between the former chaplain and Jonathan Phelps of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church. My impetus for the interview was curiosity about whether the ideas each used to foment antigay rhetoric and hatred, due to their inherently fabricated and arbitrary nature, might conflict with each other. This hypothesis was confirmed when, in spite of their virulently antigay points of view, Klingenschmitt and Phelps could come to no agreement as to why LGBT people are "problematic," nor how such people should be "dealt with."

In this interview Phelps argued, echoing the slogan of the Westboro Baptist Church, that "God hates fags," while Klingenschmitt said he believes God does not hate anyone. The former Navy chaplain believes exorcism is a valid "cure" for homosexuality, but Jonathan Phelps indicated gay exorcism is "nonsensical," "head-spinning hocus-pocus," and could result in lawsuits against Klingenschmitt. Conversely, Klingenschmitt disagreed with Jonathan Phelps's position that the death penalty would be a justifiable punishment for homosexuality, and the chaplain added that he found the church's picketing of soldiers' funerals "reprehensible."

This interview, which is available on The David Pakman Show's YouTube channel, confirmed that as outrageous and hateful as many of Klingenschmitt's views are, they are ultimately based in an alternate universe in which, according to polls, fewer and fewer individuals live as time passes. The former chaplain was able to win this primary election in the midst of an incumbent stepping down and in a highly conservative district of Colorado. The circumstances are not representative of the "average" election, nor are the constituents of that district the "typical" American voter.

While we won't know the ultimate fate of Klingenschmitt's candidacy until the general election in November, we do know that more Americans are in favor of either same-sex marriage or civil unions than at any time in the history of the United States. The momentum toward equality continues building, with same-sex marriage bans being overturned on a near-weekly basis and same-sex couples walking down the aisle in a growing number of states.

Unfortunately, while the country overall is becoming increasingly progressive on social issues, Republican elected officials and insiders are fiercely resisting this momentum. As election data proves, the Republican Party is moving towards being the party of middle-aged white men and of those who are most fervently religious. As a result, the party must leverage those groups for fundraising purposes. While the country continues to move to the left on same-sex marriage, abortion, what should count as science in classrooms, and related issues, the Republican Party is using its most discriminatory and retrograde positions as wedge issues around which money is raised. For the time being, the strategy works, as incredibly extreme candidates do achieve victory in races across the country.

In the longer term, there are two possibilities. The right-wing extremists may wither away as they become increasingly distant from the mainstream of American beliefs. Alternatively, the shrinking minorities that support these views may become even more geographically concentrated within the U.S. and we will see increased division of the country, exacerbating the "two Americas" dynamic that has developed over the last 20 years.

What we can be sure of is that individuals holding the positions of Gordon Klingenschmitt are unlikely to fare well given the direction of the country. Even most Republicans do not share the views of those like Klingenschmitt and the Westboro Baptist Church. Increasingly, Republican insiders are aware that these types of candidates are bad for the Republican Party overall. Win or lose in November, the gay exorcism platform of the former Navy chaplain is not likely to strengthen in the coming election cycles.

DAVID PAKMAN is the host of The David Pakman Show, an internationally syndicated talk radio program.

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