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Gay rights foes see opportunity over same-sex marriage

Gay rights foes see opportunity over same-sex marriage

Even as they issue dire warnings, many longtime opponents of the gay rights movement are welcoming the furor over same-sex marriage as a chance to expand the audience for their unfavorable views of being gay or lesbian. Activists in this camp--clergy, conservative lobbyists, and so-called ex-gays--have been dismayed by gay rights advances in recent years. But they see new opportunities for their cause if, as polls indicate, a majority of the Americans oppose the spreading push for gay marriage. "People are taking us more seriously," said Joseph Nicolosi, a leading proponent of the contested concept that being gay or lesbian is a disorder treatable by therapy. "People were just hoping this issue would go way, and now they're forced to think about it and make some evaluation of what homosexuality is," he said. His organization, the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, reports an increase in inquiries and donations as the marriage debate escalates. Leading gay activists acknowledge that public opinion on same-sex marriage is deeply divided, but they hope middle-of-the-road Americans are not swayed by the messages coming from entrenched opponents of gay rights. "These organizations call themselves 'pro-family,"' said Joan Garry, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. "But people should see them as part of the antigay industry, raising lots of money by peddling factual inaccuracies about gays and lesbians, inciting fear of people who are different." Those on the front lines of the campaign against gay activism cite diverse motives for their efforts. Sheldon, a Presbyterian minister, traces his strong views to his background as a theology student. "When you advocate homosexual marriage, you are violating the mandate of the Creation narrative," he says. Nicolosi said he became an activist for solely secular reasons--he was angry at the American Psychological Association for condemning reparative therapy a decade ago as a potentially harmful practice. Another group of staunch gay rights opponents attribute their zeal to personal experiences as gays and lesbians. One activist who describes himself as being formerly gay is Stephen Bennett, of Huntington, Conn. He considers homosexuality a sin, speaks at churches across the country, and markets a daily radio commentary called "Straight Talk Radio." "I lived a gay lifestyle for 11 years and was involved with more than 100 men sexually, including many who died from AIDS," said Bennett. Bennett said he moved away from being gay "after being confronted by a Christian friend who made me look into my life." He is now married, has two children, and adamantly opposes same-sex marriage. "We should not be enabling homosexual men and women to continue in a dysfunctional lifestyle," Bennett said. "That's not hate-filled or homophobic. We should help them move out of it." Garry noted that even as President Bush recently endorsed a proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage, he urged the national debate to be conducted with "kindness and goodwill and decency." Yet some foes of gay marriage "talk about gay people as diseased, mentally ill, and prone to substance abuse," Garry said. "There's no goodwill there and no kindness or decency."

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