What does the GOP hope to gain with its new hate offensive?
A war is under way. The soldiers are political extremists in the Republican
Party, and the targets are those Americans who happen to be gay men or
Nothing about the new offensive has been subtle. Trent Lott, the Senate
Majority Leader, called homosexuality a disease akin to kleptomania,
alcoholism, or "sex addiction." Other Republicans quickly jumped in, adding
that they, too, found it to be "a sin," "immoral," and "sickening." Now, a
consortium of politically minded religious radicals has bought a series of ads
(one featuring football star Reggie White) that portray homosexuality as a
disease whose victims badly need God's help to achieve a cure.
But the attacks go beyond words. In Congress, the antigay agenda is active.
The Clinton administration's nominee to serve as ambassador to Luxembourg,
former University of Chicago Law School dean James Hormel, is being held up in
the Senate not because he is unqualified -- he sailed through the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee -- but simply because he is gay. Representative
Joel Hefley (R-Colorado) is sponsoring an amendment that would strike down the
right of federal employees to be protected from discrimination on the basis of
their sexual orientation. And another amendment, being considered as the
Phoenix goes to press, would deny San Francisco $260 million in
federal housing aid because the city requires its contractors to give the same
benefits to gay and lesbian couples that they give to heterosexual ones. (This
from the party that wants to stop the federal government from meddling.) So
unreasonable is the atmosphere that this week the Boy Scouts of America, upset
at the Unitarian Church's tolerant attitude toward gay men and lesbians,
actually demanded that the church not give badges to scouts.
Behind all the seemingly disconnected darts is a coherent and well-planned
agenda. The November elections are approaching, and analysts are predicting a
low turnout. Trent Lott (and others of his ilk) see shrill denunciations of
"the homosexual lifestyle" as a way to bring the party's hard-core to the
This is deeply dishonest. Anyone who has looked honestly at the scientific
evidence -- or simply spoken with a gay friend or family member -- understands
that sexual orientation is not a "choice." To pretend otherwise -- to argue
that homosexuality can or should be "cured" -- is to fan the flames of hatred.
It is to feed the idea that, somehow, the nation's gay men and lesbians are to
blame for America's moral decline. The conclusion that the bigoted will draw
from this premise, unstated but clearly present in all the recent rhetorical
fireworks, is chilling.
Scapegoating is not the mark of a great political party. Fair-minded
Republicans understand this. "I don't believe the party is likely to grow
stronger or our voters more numerous through attacks on minorities, whether
they be sexual minorities or religious or racial minorities," Indiana's Senator
Richard Lugar has declared. In the final analysis, most Americans prefer to
judge individuals not by labels but by "the content of their character."
It is a testament to the American people that, against the weight of many
centuries of prejudice, they are beginning to apply this principle to gay men
and lesbians. It has become increasingly clear that the religious zealots are
waging a war they cannot, in the end, win. Which is why, no doubt, their
rhetoric has been so mean-spirited, so desperate -- and so un-Christian.
But this rhetoric will continue to have a powerful effect as long as there are
politicians who are willing to play the game. If anything, the past few weeks
underscore the importance of making your voice heard -- of voting for
candidates, in local elections as well as national, who will define freedom in
an open way, and who will fight to build a society in which all citizens can
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