Gay-rights foes try to play the victim

Anti-LGBT groups now claim they’re the ones being bullied

DAVID CRARY  |  Associated Press

NEW YORK — As the gay-rights movement advances, there is increasing evidence of an intriguing role reversal: Today, it is the conservative opponents of that movement who seem eager to depict themselves as victims of intolerance.

To them, the gay-rights lobby has morphed into a relentless bully, pressuring companies and law firms into policy reversals, making it taboo in some circumstances to express opposition to same-sex marriage.

“They’re advocating for a lot of changes in the name of tolerance,” said Jim Campbell, an attorney with the conservative Alliance Defense Fund. “Yet ironically the tolerance is not returned, for people of faith who don’t agree with their agenda.”

Many gay activists, recalling their movement’s past struggles and mindful of remaining bias, consider such protestations by their foes to be hollow and hypocritical.

“They lost the argument on gay people, and now they are losing the argument on marriage,” said lawyer Evan Wolfson, president of the advocacy group Freedom to Marry. “Diversions, scare tactics and this playing the victim are all they have left.”

He added: “There’s been a shift in the moral understanding of people: that exclusion from marriage and anti-gay prejudice is wrong. Positions that wouldn’t have been questioned in the past are now being held up to the light.”

Among the recent incidents prompting some conservatives to complain of intolerance or political bullying:

• Olympic gold medal gymnast Peter Vidmar stepped down as chief of mission for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team in May following controversy over his opposition to gay marriage. Vidmar, a Mormon, had publicly supported Proposition 8, the voter-approved law passed in 2008 that restricted marriage in California to one man and one woman.

• After coming under fire from gay-rights groups in April, the Atlanta-based law firm King & Spalding pulled out of an agreement with Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to defend the federal ban on same-sex marriage.

• In New York, state Sen. Ruben Diaz, a Democrat from the Bronx, New York City, contends he has received death threats because he opposes legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. The alleged threats were cited last week by the New York State Catholic Conference, which also opposes gay marriage.

“We are unjustly called ‘haters’ and ‘bigots’ by those who have carefully framed their advocacy strategy,” wrote the conference’s executive director, Richard Barnes. “The entire campaign to enact same-sex marriage is conducted under a banner of acceptance. … Yet behind that banner of tolerance is another campaign — of intimidation, threats and ugliness.”

• Apple Inc. recently withdrew two iPhone apps from its App Store after complaints and petition campaigns by gay-rights supporters.

One app was intended to publicize the Manhattan Declaration, a document signed in 2009 by scores of conservative Christian leaders. It condemns same-sex marriage as immoral and suggests that legalizing it could open the door to recognition of polygamy and sibling incest.

The other app was for Exodus International, a network of ministries which depict homosexuality as a destructive condition that can be overcome through Christian faith.

In both cases, gay activists celebrated the apps’ removals, while the apps’ creators contended their freedom of expression was being unjustly curtailed.

“The gay-rights groups have shown their fangs,” wrote Chuck Colson, the Watergate figure turned born-again Christian who helped launch the Manhattan Declaration. “They want to silence, yes, destroy those who don’t agree with their agenda.”

Exodus International president Alan Chambers, who says he changed his own sexual orientation through religious counseling, said he was alarmed by the aggressive tactics of “savvy gay activists.”

“We have seen individuals, ministries and even private corporations that dare to hold to a biblical worldview on sexuality bullied into a corner,” Chambers wrote in a blog.

However, Wolfson said the Exodus app deserved to be removed. “They were peddling something that’s been repudiated as crackpot quackery.”

The campaign that pressured King & Spalding to withdraw from the Defense of Marriage Act case was criticized by a relatively wide range of commentators and legal experts, not just conservative foes of gay marriage.

“To think it’s a good idea to attack lawyers defending unpopular clients; I don’t have words for how stupid and wrong that is,” said Wendy Kaminer, a lawyer and writer who formerly served on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union.

However, the gay-rights activists involved in pressuring King & Spalding were unapologetic.

“If we made it such that no law firm would defend the indefensible, then good for us,” said Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president for communication. “When you have people talking about the fact that it’s no longer politically correct to be anti-equality, it’s a show of progress.”

Sainz said it was important for activists to pick their targets carefully.

“We understand there are goodhearted Americans in the middle who are still struggling with these issues,” he said. “Different activists have different ways of getting to the same end, and some of those are bound to make certain people feel uncomfortable.”

Though same-sex marriage is legal in only five states, it has for the first time gained the support of a majority of Americans, according to a series of recent national opinion polls. For some gay activists, this trend has fueled efforts to make their opponents’ views seem shameful.

“Their beliefs on this issue are very quickly becoming socially disgraceful, much in the way white supremacy is socially disgraceful,” wrote Evan Hurst of the advocacy group Truth Wins Out. “They are certainly entitled to cling to backwoods, uneducated, reality-rejecting views, … but their ‘religious freedom’ doesn’t call for the rest of us to somehow pretend their views aren’t disgusting and hateful.”

However, some gay-rights supporters see the public opinion shift as reason to be more magnanimous.

“The turn we now need to execute will be the hardest maneuver the movement has ever had to make, because it will require us to deliberately leave room for homophobia,” Jonathan Rauch, a writer and guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, wrote recently in The Advocate, a gay-oriented newsmagazine.

“Incidents of rage against ‘haters,’ verbal abuse of opponents, boycotts of small-business owners, absolutist enforcement of anti-discrimination laws: Those and other `zero-tolerance’ tactics play into the ‘homosexual bullies’ narrative,” Rauch wrote. “The other side, in short, is counting on us to hand them the victimhood weapon. Our task is to deny it to them.”

As ideological foes spar over these issues, the American Civil Liberties Union is confronted with a delicate balancing act. Its national gay rights project battles aggressively against anti-gay discrimination, but, as a longtime defender of free speech, the ACLU also is expected to intervene sometimes on behalf of anti-gay expression.

For example, the ACLU pressed a lawsuit on behalf of the fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church, which has outraged mourning communities by picketing service members’ funerals with crudely worded signs condemning homosexuality. The ACLU said the Missouri state law banning such picketing infringes on religious freedom and free speech.

Some critics, such as Wendy Kaminer, have contended that the ACLU now tilts too much toward espousing gay rights, at the expense of a more vigorous defense of anti-gay free speech.

However, James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s gay rights project, said the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protects free speech but comes into play only when a government entity is seen as curtailing speech rights, which did not occur in the Vidmar or King & Spalding cases.

“What we have there is simply the push and pull in public policy discourse … which is sometimes rough and tumble,” Esseks said. “Being stigmatized for expressing unpopular views is part of being in a free society. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Robert George, a conservative professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University and one of the co-authors of the Manhattan Declaration, shared Esseks’ view on the often sharp-elbowed nature of public debate in America.

“Democratic politics is a messy business and sometimes it’s a contact sport,” said George, a co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage, which campaigns against same-sex marriage. He suggested that those who hold cultural power, in academia, the media and elsewhere, inevitably are going to try to impose their viewpoints.

“The power to intimidate people, to make them fear they’ll be called a bigot or denied opportunities for jobs, only works if people allow themselves to be bullied,” George said. “Conservatives who make themselves out to be victims run the risk of playing into the hands of their opponents, suggesting that their opponents’ cultural power is so vast that there’s no way it can be resisted.”

To professional free-speech advocates, such as Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, the gay rights vs. free expression cases are fascinating and often difficult.

“It’s very volatile — it requires you to parse the issues very closely,” she said. “I’m of the school of thought that you should know your enemy. You need to know what people are thinking.”

—  John Wright

ELECTION 2010: Gay marriage surfaces as an issue in state races

DAVID CRARY  |  Associated Press

NEW YORK — This election will be the first since the 1990s without a measure to ban gay marriage on any state ballot, yet the divisive issue is roiling races across the country during a time of tumult for the gay rights movement.

In Minnesota, New Hampshire, California and New York, gubernatorial campaigns have become battlegrounds for rival sides in the debate, with the Democratic candidates supporting same-sex marriage and the Republicans opposed.

In Iowa, voters will decide whether to oust three state Supreme Court justices who joined last year’s unanimous decision making the state one of five where gay marriage is legal.

And in Rhode Island and California, Democratic candidates are seeking to become the fourth and fifth openly gay members of Congress. The Californian, Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, has a husband and 4-year-old twins, and would be Congress’ first openly gay parent.

The races are unfolding on a rapidly shifting gay rights landscape, with activists elated by important court rulings, irked at setbacks in Washington and jolted by high-profile cases of anti-gay violence and bullying-provoked suicides.

The mixed emotions have been evident in recent days as a federal judge ordered a halt to enforcement of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The Obama administration says it agrees with the judge that gays should be allowed to serve openly. Yet to the frustration of gay activists, the administration appealed the ruling, saying it preferred that Congress repeal the policy.

“It’s the best of times and worst of times,” said Richard Socarides, a former Clinton White House adviser on gay rights.

“Culturally you see a huge increase in acceptance of gays and lesbians, and in the federal courts you see for the first time a willingness to embrace the Constitution as a vehicle for securing equality for gay people,” Socarides said. “Yet in our nation’s politics, we see essentially the opposite.”

He said President Barack Obama has failed to deliver on his pledges to gays regarding marriage recognition and repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“The president made a conscious decision coming in that these were second- and third-tier issues,” Socarides said. “People were very excited by him. But he overpromised and underdelivered.”

Obama said Thursday, Oct. 14 that the military policy “will end and it will end on my watch,” but he acknowledged the constraints of the legal process.

Republicans have not emphasized social issues as much as in recent elections, calculating that dismay over the economy and frustration with the Democratic agenda will be enough to post big gains. The GOP’s recent “Pledge to America” did not call for a federal ban on gay marriage or broach the issue of gays in the military.

“Even the most conservative Republicans understand that these issues don’t work on their behalf nearly as effectively as they did a few years ago,” said Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group.

Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, a major financial backer of campaigns opposing same-sex marriage, said the GOP would be unwise to soften its stance on the issue.

“We’re not saying the No. 1 issue in every state is same-sex marriage,” he said. “We are saying it’s an important issue, and Republicans abandon it at their peril.”

A look at some of the notable races:

CALIFORNIA:

The high-profile races for governor and Senate coincide with legal wrangling over Proposition 8, the ballot measure approved by California voters in 2008 that banned same-sex marriage.

A federal judge ruled in August that the ban is unconstitutional. The case will be heard before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in December. Attorney General Jerry Brown, the Democratic candidate for governor, supports same-sex marriage and has refused to defend Proposition 8 in court. His GOP opponent, Meg Whitman, opposes gay marriage and has pledged to defend the ban.

The Senate race has a similar split: Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer supports same-sex marriage and Republican challenger Carly Fiorina opposes it.

Proposition 8 supporters organized a bus tour across the state intended to rally Latino support for Fiorina based on the marriage issue. They also released a TV ad in Spanish highlighting Boxer’s support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

___

NEW HAMPSHIRE:

Last year, Democratic Gov. John Lynch, who said he opposed gay marriage, signed a bill legalizing it after lawmakers approved provisions affirming religious rights.

Lynch is up for re-election, facing a Republican who opposes same-sex marriage, and the National Organization for Marriage is running ads against the governor depicting his signing of the bill as a betrayal of voters.

Andy Smith of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center said Lynch has a solid lead over GOP nominee John Stephen in the center’s latest poll, while voters seem relatively at ease with legalized gay marriage.

“When the economy is bad, it tends to blow social issues out the door,” Smith said. “Voters are more concerned about what’s on the table than what their neighbor is doing.”

___

MINNESOTA:

There’s a similar dynamic in the race to succeed Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. GOP candidate Tom Emmer opposes same-sex marriage, while Democrat Mark Dayton and independent Tom Horner support it.

The National Organization for Marriage has run TV ads for Emmer, highlighting the trio’s stances on marriage. The ads infuriated some gay rights groups because they used the image of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs says Dayton appears to be leading, but the race is up for grabs. According to Jacobs, few voters consider gay marriage a vital issue, and Emmer has not emphasized it.

“In past years Republicans have used gay marriage as an issue to mobilize their base, to bring out conservatives,” Jacobs said. “This year they don’t need it.”

Brown, the National Organization for Marriage’s president, disagreed.

“When marriage becomes an issue, as it has in Minnesota, people understand what’s at stake,” he said. “This could be a decisive factor in governor’s race.”

___

NEW YORK:

The Republican candidate for governor, Carl Paladino, was considered an underdog from the outset in his race against Democrat Andrew Cuomo.

Now Paladino’s task may be even harder after his recent entanglement in gay-related controversies. He railed against gay marriage in a speech to Orthodox Jewish leaders, then called the bumping-and-grinding at gay pride parades disgusting.

Under fire from gay rights advocates, including the Cuomo campaign, he apologized, costing him his support from a leading rabbi. Meanwhile, news reports surfaced that Paladino was once landlord of two gay clubs in Buffalo.

___

IOWA:

Polls show Iowa voters evenly split on whether to oust three Supreme Court justices who were part of the decision legalizing gay marriage. If the effort succeeds, it would be the first time since Iowa adopted its current system for appointing judges in 1962 that voters opted to remove a Supreme Court justice.

The targets include Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, who said the three wouldn’t undertake a counter-campaign because they don’t want to set a questionable example for judges by campaigning and raising money.

Brown said removal of any of the justices would be a “game-changer” with national impact.

“Judges will have to sit up and take notice that they can’t just arbitrarily make up the law,” he said.

—  John Wright

New survey on sex in U.S. is biggest since 1994

7% of women, 8% of men identify as GLB, but proportion of adults who’ve had same-gender sex at some point is much higher

DAVID CRARY  |  AP National Writer

NEW YORK — The male-female orgasm gap. The sex lives of 14-year-olds. An intriguing breakdown of condom usage rates, by age and ethnicity, with teens emerging as more safe-sex-conscious than boomers.

That’s just a tiny sampling of the data unveiled Monday in what the researchers say is the largest, most comprehensive national survey of Americans’ sexual behavior since 1994.

Filling 130 pages of a special issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine, the study offers detailed findings on how often Americans have sex, with whom, and how they respond. In all, 5,865 people, ranging in age from 14 to 94, participated in the survey.

The lead researchers, from Indiana University’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion, said the study fills a void that has grown since the last comparable endeavor — the National Health and Social Life Survey — was published 16 years ago. Major changes since then include the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, the types of sex education available to young people, the advent of same-sex marriage, and the emergence of the Internet as a tool for social interaction.

Dr. Dennis Fortenberry, a pediatrics professor who was lead author of the study’s section about teen sex, said the overall findings of such a huge survey should provide reassurance to Americans who are curious about how their sex lives compare with others.

“Unless, like al-Qaida, you feel there’s something abnormal about the American people, what these data say is, ‘This is normal — everything in there is normal.”’

The researchers said they were struck by the variety of ways in which the subjects engaged in sex — 41 different combinations of sexual acts were tallied, encompassing vaginal and anal intercourse, oral sex, and partnered masturbation.

Men are more likely to experience orgasm when vaginal intercourse is involved, while women are more likely to reach orgasm when they engage in variety of acts, including oral sex, said researcher Debra Herbenick, lead author of the section about women’s sex lives.

She noted there was a gap in perceptions — 85 percent of the men said their latest sexual partner had an orgasm, while only 64 percent of the women reported having an orgasm in their most recent sexual event.

One-third of women experienced genital pain during their most recent sex, compared to 5 percent of men, said Herbenick, citing this as an area warranting further study.

The study, which began taking shape in 2007, was funded by Church & Dwight Co., the manufacturer of Trojan condoms. Questions about condom usage figured prominently in the study, but the researchers — during a teleconference — insisted the integrity of their findings was not affected by the corporate tie.

Among the findings was a high rate of condom usage among 14- to 17-year-olds. Of the surveyed boys who had sexual intercourse, 79 percent reported using a condom on the most recent occasion, compared to 25 percent for all the men in the survey.

However, the sample for that particular question involved only 57 teens in the 14-to-17 age range. That’s far smaller than the thousands involved in latest federal Youth Risk Behavior Survey last year which calculated condom use among sexually active high school students at 61 percent

Fortenberry nonetheless found the new findings encouraging.

“There’s been a major shift among young people in the role condoms have in their sexual lives,” he said. “Condoms have become normative.”

Another intriguing finding —rates of condom usage among black and Hispanic men were significantly higher than for whites. The researchers said this suggested that HIV-AIDS awareness programs were now making headway in those communities, which have relatively high rates of the disease.

The lowest condom usage rates were for men over 50 — and the researchers said this was worrisome. Although men in that age group are more likely to be married than males in their teens and 20s, other surveys have shown 50s-and-over to be far more open to multiple sexual partners than in the past, raising the risk for disease.

Other notable findings:

• While about 7 percent of adult women and 8 percent of men identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, the proportion of individuals who have had same-gender sex at some point in their lives is higher. For example, 15 percent of the men aged 50-59 said they had received oral sex from another man at some point.

• Among adolescent boys, only about 2 percent of the 14-year-olds — but 40 percent of the 17-year-olds — said they had engaged in sexual intercourse in the past year.

The survey was conducted from March through May of 2009, with the assistance of Knowledge Networks, among a nationally representative sample of adolescents and adults. Once people were selected to participate, they were interviewed online; participants without Internet access were provided it for free.

The researchers said the 1994 survey was compiled through in-person interviews, while the new method — collecting data over the Internet — may help make respondents more comfortable about discussing sexual behaviors.

Dr. Irwin Goldstein, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Sexual Medicine, noted that the new study came more than 60 years after Alfred Kinsey — also based at Indiana University — published his groundbreaking report, “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male.”

“Just like then, these papers contain material that is avant garde and often considered off-limits,” Goldstein wrote in a forward to the study. “At a time when we can have nudity on HBO but cannot use the names of our genitals on the evening news, there remains a need to continue research on sexual health.”

—  John Wright

Groups step up pressure as clock winds down on DADT repeal

DAVID CRARY  |  Associated Press

NEW YORK — Elated by a major court victory, gay-rights activists are stepping up pressure on Congress to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy this month. They want to avoid potentially lengthy appeals and fear their chances for a legislative fix will fade after Election Day.

The House voted in May to repeal the 17-year-old policy banning openly gay service members. Many majority Democrats in the Senate want to take up the matter in the remaining four weeks before the pre-election recess, but face opposition from Republican leaders.

National gay-rights groups, fearing possible Democratic losses on Nov. 2, urged their supporters Friday, Sept. 10 to flood senators’ offices with phone calls and e-mails asking that the Senate vote on the measure during the week of Sept. 20.

“If we don’t speak up now, our window for repeal could close,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

Supporters of repeal hope senators heed the ruling issued Thursday in Los Angeles by U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips, who said ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was an unconstitutional violation of the due process and free speech rights of gays and lesbians.

The policy has a “direct and deleterious effect” on the military by hurting recruitment efforts during wartime and requiring the discharge of service members who have critical skills and training, she said.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a Republican gay-rights organization, sued the federal government in 2004 to stop the policy, and Phillips said she would draft an order within a week doing just that. The U.S. Department of Justice hasn’t yet said whether it will appeal the ruling; spokesman Charles Miller said attorneys were reviewing it.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen — both in favor of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” — say they prefer that the change wait until the military completes a review of the issue. That study, due in December, includes surveys of troops and their families to get their views and help determine how a change would be implemented.

Gay-rights activists, worried that the election could tilt the balance of power in Congress, don’t want to wait.

“We’re pleased by the judge’s decision, but this decision is likely to be appealed and will linger for years,” said Aubrey Sarvis of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which has lobbied against ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’

The House-passed repeal measure is contained in a broader defense policy bill which has yet to be sent to the Senate floor because of an objection by Republican Sen. John McCain during debate in the Armed Services Committee.

McCain said it was “disgraceful” to push for a vote on the repeal before completion of the Pentagon review.

Democrats, who effectively hold 59 Senate seats, will need at least some Republican support to reach the 60 votes needed to pass the bill. Republican Susan Collins of Maine voted for repeal in committee.

The Senate has a packed agenda for the next few weeks before its recess, and Republicans have warned that they might not make time for the defense bill if it contains controversial amendments. Along with the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ repeal, it includes a proposal that would allow female service members to receive abortions at military facilities.

Among those on the spot is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who must decide how hard to push for a vote on the repeal.

Over the summer, Reid was given the West Point ring of Lt. Dan Choi, an Iraq war veteran who was discharged from the New York Army National Guard because he was open about his homosexuality. Choi said he would take back the ring only when ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was repealed, and he was among many activists urging Reid to press hard for a vote.

“The time for accountability has come,” Choi said Friday. “Sen. Reid needs to follow the leadership of Judge Phillips and take immediate action to support the men and women serving in our nation’s military.”

President Barack Obama has said he would like ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ repealed, but wants Congress to take the lead in accomplishing that. Republicans on Friday called on the administration to defend the law until the Defense Department had a chance to complete its review.

“After making the continuous sacrifice of fighting two wars over the course of eight years, the men and women of our military deserve to be heard — and have earned that right,” said California Rep. Buck McKeon, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

During the trial before Phillips, government attorneys presented only the policy’s legislative history in their defense and called no witnesses.

Justice Department attorney Paul G. Freeborne argued that the issue should be decided by Congress rather than in court. He said the plaintiffs were trying to force a federal court to overstep its bounds and halt the policy as it is being debated by lawmakers.

In 2008, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the law itself is constitutional, but the way the military applies it is not. The court said it’s OK to discharge people for being gay — but only if the military proves that the dismissal furthers military readiness.

The Pentagon has ignored that ruling over the past two years, continuing to discharge gays without making such a showing.

The case before the 9th Circuit concerned former Maj. Margaret Witt, a decorated Air Force flight nurse discharged for having a long-term relationship with a civilian woman in Washington state. Witt continues to seek reinstatement, and a federal trial was scheduled to begin Monday, Sept. 13 in Tacoma over whether her firing actually furthered military goals.

Phillips’ decision was the third federal court ruling since July to assert that statutory limits on the rights of gays and lesbians were unconstitutional. Earlier, federal judges ruled against California’s Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage, and against the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition to same-sex marriages even in states such as Massachusetts that allow them.

—  John Wright