Until last week,
most gays, like most straight people in Australia, had
never heard of the religious sect the Exclusive Brethren.
And this was
something the Exclusive Brethren were quite happy about.
to intense media scrutiny, that's all changed -- and now
we know more than we ever wished to about this strange but
often wealthy group of people who like to call
themselves "the chosen ones."
Last week in New
Zealand, two private investigators confirmed that they
were paid by the Exclusive Brethren to dig up dirt on New
Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, her husband and
senior Labour Party lawmakers, the Australian
Broadcasting Corp. reported. A story claiming the prime
minister's husband was gay surfaced in a right-wing
magazine, forcing her to hold a news conference to
tell the world it wasn't so.
Most of the
Brethren's beliefs are so ridiculous (mobile phones and
electronic transit tolls are a tool of the devil, God
chooses the government; universities are not good for
education) they're laughable. However, it's their
hatred and condemnation of gays that has been the
focus of much of the media attention.
What has emerged
is the frightening reality that the Exclusive Brethren
have both money and power -- and even though the sect
forbids its members to vote, it has every intention of
influencing the outcome of elections all over the
world, this time in the Australian state of Victoria.
whose Web site says they "do not live in countries that
do not have a Christian Government," dislike Australia's
Green Party because it supports equal rights for
same-sex couples in the way of civil unions or
marriage. They hope to eradicate Greens' hope of being
elected or re-elected via a difficult-to-trace smear
for the Victoria election, coming up Nov. 25, is to purge
the Greens from the Upper House and encourage voters to
support the conservative anti-civil union stance of
the Nationals. (They dislike Liberal leader Ted
Baillieu for his socially progressive policies, and
have met with shadow minister Victoria Philip Davis, an
accused homophobe in Victoria's gay press.)
A wealthy group
numbering about 18,000 throughout Australia, the Brethren
take full advantage of federal disclosure laws that allow
anonymous political donations of up to $90,000.
They used some of
this money to print anti-gay pamphlets informing
households that if the Greens get in, then gays will be
allowed to marry -- a strategy that was particularly
successful in scaring the bejeesus out of voters in
March elections in Tasmania.
Brethren have been big cash donors to conservative
Australian candidates since the 2004 federal election, in
which their horse, Prime Minister John Howard, came
home in spectacular style (albeit on the world's
Last year, the
Sydney Morning Herald reported, pro-Howard and anti-Green
political ads by Stephen Hales, the brother of Bruce Hales,
a Sydney businessman and world leader of the
Brethren's 70,000 followers, were traced to one of the
sect's schools -- for which it receives AUS$2.4
million in annual public subsidies.
During the 2004
U.S. election season, the St. Petersburg Times reported,
Brethren gave roughly U.S. $500,000 to buy ads in the New
York Times supporting President Bush and in two
Florida newspapers backing Republican U.S. Senate
contender Mel Martinez -- the latter because of his
support for traditional marriage. Both campaigns denied
knowing anything about the committee or its members.
The placing of
the political ads was "the first time I've known this
to happen in the history" of the Brethren, Ian Markham,
professor of theology and ethics and dean of the
Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, told the St.
Petersburg Times. Markham was born into the Brethren --
sometimes known in the States as the Plymouth Brethren --
but said his father pulled his family from the sect
about 30 years ago. (Cath Pope, Gay.com/UK)