A Republican candidate for Missouri's House of Representatives has called homosexuality more of a health hazard than smoking and voiced "outrage" over marriage equality.
Those are views expressed by Hardy Billington, who is running in Missouri House District 152, centered on Poplar Bluff, in the far southeastern part of the state near the Arkansas border.
In 2012, Billington took out an ad in Poplar Bluff's local newspaper, the Daily American Republic, in support of a piece of state legislation dubbed the "don't say gay" bill, which "would have banned the mention of sexual orientation in public school classrooms except in scientific contexts," the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The bill ultimately failed to pass.
"We are encouraging and affirming individuals into the 'gay' lifestyle," Billington wrote in the ad. "If you truly love someone, you would steer them away from self-destructive behaviors, shouldn't you? Homosexuals need our tough love, not blind love."
He contended that "study aftert study" shows that homosexuality cuts life expectancy by up to 30 years, far more than smoking -- a claim that is "pretty spurious," physician Fred Rottnek told the Post-Dispatch. The paper noted that when other politicians have made similar claims, they were based on outdated research, before improvements in HIV treatment allowed even HIV-positive gay men a normal life expectancy.
"What might take years off of people's lives are young people growing up in communities where they hear this [rhetoric] spouted from people of authority," state Rep. Greg Razer, a gay Kansas City Democrat who grew up in southeastern Missouri, told the Post-Dispatch. "Those teenagers then commit suicide, that's how years come off your life."
Billington published a book in 2006 called The Election by Faith in '04. The promotional blurb for the book describes his "outrage" at a Massachusetts court legalizing same-sex marriage in the state that year and his prayers "for guidance to somehow accomplish something extraordinary to help re-elect President [George W.] Bush," who ended up making a campaign appearance in Poplar Bluff. Bush was reelected that year, due in part to turnout from conservatives voting on same-sex marriage bans in several states. Bush had also supported amending the U.S. Constitution to ban such marriages.
A retired small-business owner, Billington is the only Republican running for the District 152 seat. The incumbent is House Speaker Todd Richardson, also a Republican, who cannot run again due to term limits. The primary is next Tuesday.
In the November general election, his likely Democratic opponent is Robert L. Smith, a former judge and prosecutor. "I've known Hardy for 30 years, and I knew he had published those ads," Smith told the Post-Dispatch. "I don't think it's right to discriminate against people because of who they are."
Billington, who is favored to win the general election in the heavily Republican district, did not respond to the paper's requests for comment. However, his campaign treasurer, Thomas W. Graham Jr., told the Post-Dispatch, "He's not afraid to let anybody know that that's his position, his personal conviction. That doesn't mean that he has any animosity towards somebody that doesn't hold that conviction."