Religious Right Rally against Marriage Equality in Florida

Just days after the Religious Right’s B-team gathered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida to question Republican candidates for president (including the ones who didn’t show up), a number of more prominent right-wing figures are convening in Tampa for the Family Impact Summit, sponsored by the Focus on the Family-affiliated Florida Family Policy Council, the Tampa-based Community Issues Council, the Family Research Council, and the Salem radio network.

Advertised topics range from “Christian Citizenship” to “Homosexual Agenda,” but the focus will no doubt be on the 2008 election, and in particular, the effort by Florida’s Right to put a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage on the ballot—even though gays are already prohibited from marrying by statute.

Below is some background on the featured speakers, from Tony Perkins and Richard Land to Katherine Harris and Ken Blackwell.

Tony Perkins

Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council, considered the leading religious-right think tank in Washington, DC. Before coming to FRC, Perkins was a state legislator in Louisiana, and as a campaign manager for a Republican candidate, he reportedly bought David Duke’s e-mail list.

Under Perkins’s leadership, FRC, along with Focus on the Family, put together several “simulcasts” of political rallies held in churches, including three “Justice Sunday” events in 2005-2006—“Stopping the Filibuster Against People of Faith,” ”God Save the United States and this Honorable Court,” and “Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land”—featuring religious-right luminaries such as James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, and Phyllis Schlafly, along with politicians like Rick Santorum and then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, arguing that opposition to Bush’s extreme judicial nominees constituted an assault on their faith or Christianity itself. A fourth event just before the 2006 elections, “Liberty Sunday,” promoted the idea that gays and their “agenda” were out to destroy religious freedom.

That fall, FRC also organized a “Values Voter Summit,” in which Dobson and other activists exhorted their constituency to turn out for the GOP; the conference showcased a number of future presidential candidates, including Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Sam Brownback. A second Values Voter Summit is planned for next month.

Also appearing from FRC at the Family Impact Summit are David Prentice and Peter Sprigg.

Richard Land

Since 1998, Richard Land has served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, which is “dedicated to addressing social and moral concerns and their implications on public policy issues from City Hall to Congress.”   

Land has been an active and influential right-wing leader for many years and in 2005, was named one of “The Twenty-five Most Influential Evangelicals in America” by Time Magazine, joining the likes of James Dobson, Chuck Colson, David Barton, Rick Santorum, and Ted Haggard.

Land also hosts three separate nationally syndicated radio programs and has written several books including, most recently “The Divided States of America? What Liberals and Conservatives are Missing in the God-and-Country Shouting Match!,” which Land claims seeks a middle ground between the right and the left on the role of religion in the public square.  In reality, the middle ground Land stakes out consists mainly of standard right-wing positions on political and social issues that are made to appear moderate in comparison to ultra-radical positions put forth by far-right fringe elements.  

In recent months, Land has been positioning himself to play a much more high-profile role in the presidential campaign than he has in the past, repeatedly asserting that he and other Evangelicals will not support Rudy Giuliani or Newt Gingrich, should he run,  while regularly bolstering the campaign of Fred Thompson, who Land calls a “Southern-fried Reagan.”

Harry Jackson

Jackson, pastor of a Maryland megachurch, has become a frequent spokesman for right-wing causes in recent years. In 2004, he played a prominent role in urging blacks to vote for George Bush, and in 2005, he started the High Impact Leadership Coalition and unveiled his “Black Contract with America on Moral Values”—an agenda topped with fighting gay marriage—at an event co-sponsored by the far-right Traditional Values Coalition. Jackson spoke at “Justice Sunday,” a religious-right rally in favor of Bush’s judicial nominees, as well as “Justice Sunday II, where he promised to “bring the rule and reign of the Cross to America.” He is a member of the Arlington Group.

Since then, Jackson has continued to urge blacks to vote for right-wing causes and candidates. “[Martin Luther] King would most likely be a social conservative,” he wrote in one typical column. His most recent efforts have focused on opposing hate crimes protections for gays, falsely claiming that a proposed bill would “muzzle our pulpits.”

In an article in Charisma magazine, Jackson wrote that the “wisdom behind” the “gay agenda” is “clearly satanic,” and he called for an aggressive “counterattack.” He asserted to The New York Times that “Historically when societies have gone off kilter, there has been rampant same-sex marriage.”

Don Wildmon

Wildmon is the Founder and Chairman of the American Family Association, which exists primarily to decry whatever it deems “immoral” in American culture and lead boycotts against companies that in any way support causes, organizations, or programs it deems offensive, particularly anything that does not portray gays and lesbians in a negative light. 

Over the years, AFA has targeted everything from the National Endowment for the Arts, Howard Stern, and the television show “Ellen” to major corporations such as Ford , Burger King, and Clorox.  AFA has also been particularly focused on Disney, declaring that the company’s “attack on America’s families has become so blatant, so intentional, so obvious” as to warrant a multi-year boycott.

Recently, AFA has been busy warning that proposed hate-crimes legislation is designed to lay the “groundwork for persecution of Christians,” attacked presidential candidate Mitt Romney over his time on the board of Marriott Corporation because the company offers adult movies in its hotels, and warned that the US Senate was “angering a just God” and bringing “judgment upon our country” by allowing a Hindu chaplain to deliver an opening prayer. 

Gary Bauer

Gary Bauer is a long-time right-wing activist and leader.  After serving President Ronald Reagan's administration for eight years in various capacities, Bauer went on to become President of the Family Research Council, which was founded, in part, by James Dobson of Focus on the Family, where Bauer also served as Senior Vice President. 

Bauer stepped down from FRC in 1999 when he launched an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.  After dropping out of the race, Bauer made a surprising endorsement of Sen. John McCain at a time when many of the other right-wing leaders had lined up behind George W. Bush.  

Bauer’s standing took a beating when he defended McCain’s attack on Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as “agents of intolerance” and he was ostracized by many for quite a while after McCain lost.  But Bauer pressed ahead, creating his own non-profit, American Values, and gradually reestablished himself in right-wing circles.  

Since then, Bauer has been active in various right-wing campaigns, most notably joining with likes of Tony Perkins and James Dobson in defending and pressing for the confirmation of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.  

William Owens

Owens, a graduate of Oral Roberts University and a Memphis pastor, founded the Coalition of African American Pastors to combat equal marriage rights for gay couples. Owens reportedly told the “Rally for Traditional Marriage” held in Mississippi in 2004 that “homosexual activists of today have hijacked the civil rights cause,” adding: “We're going to fight until we win,” he said. “We're going to have crusades and rallies like this until we win. We're going to let our political leaders know ‘if you don't stand for God, we won't stand for you.’” Owens lent the CAAP name to the Religious Right’s judges campaign, signing on to the “National Coalition to End Judicial Filibusters” and holding a press conference in support of Samuel Alito’s Supreme Court nomination.

In 2004, Owens formed an alliance with the Arlington Group, a coalition of powerful religious-right leaders that was widely credited with being the driving force behind the effort to put anti-gay marriage amendments on the ballot in 11 states in that year’s election. Owens is now on the group’s executive committee, alongside James Dobson, Gary Bauer, Bill Bennett, Tony Perkins, Paul Weyrich, Rod Parsley and others.

Alan Chambers

"Ex-gay" Alan Chambers is president of Exodus International and executive director of Exodus North America, which claim gay men and lesbians can be “cured" and "change" their sexual orientation to heterosexual. Exodus' board includes long-time anti-gay activist Phil Burress of Ohio's Citizens for Community Values, his wife Vickie Burress – founder of the American Family Association of Indiana – and Mike Haley, who replaced discredited "ex-gay" John Paulk at Focus on the Family as chief spokesperson on homosexuality and gender issues. Exodus also co-sponsors a series of "ex-gay" conferences across the country with Focus on the Family. One recent Love Won Out event was particularly mired in controversy when it was revealed that one of its presenting organizations had published a racist column that appeared to justify slavery. During a 2006 CPAC conference panel, Chambers insisted "lifelong homosexual relationships are not possible" and the battle for marriage equality was solely being promoted by the liberal media.

Other representatives of the “ex-gay” activist community scheduled for the conference include Scott Davis and Mike Ensley of Exodus and Nancy Heche, whose book “The Truth Comes Out” describes “how to respond lovingly, yet appropriately, to homosexual family members and friends,” such as her husband, who held secret “homosexual affairs,” and her daughter, whose open relationship with Ellen DeGeneres Heche called “Like a betrayal of an unspoken vow: We will never have anything to do with homosexuals.”

Robert Knight

Robert Knight is something of a journeyman within the right-wing movement.  After starting out as a journalist and editor for various newspapers, Knight has held a series of jobs with various right-wing organizations including Senior Director of Cultural Studies at the Family Research Council, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and director of the Culture & Family Institute at Concerned Women for America.

Currently, he is the head of the Media Research Center’s Culture and Media Institute at the Media Research Center and a columnist for Townhall.com.

His hostility toward gays is well-known, as evidenced by his response to the news that Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of the Vice President, was expecting a child with her partner: 

"I think it's tragic that a child has been conceived with the express purpose of denying it a father," Knight said.

"Fatherhood is important and always will be, so if Mary and her partner indicate that that is a trivial matter, they're shortchanging this child from the start."

"Mary and Heather can believe what they want," Knight said, "but what they're seeking is to force others to bless their nonmarital relationship as marriage" and to "create a culture that is based on sexual anarchy instead of marriage and family values."

John Stemberger

Stemberger, a personal injury attorney and former political director for the Florida GOP, is the president and general counsel of the Florida Family Policy Counsel/Florida Family Action, a state affiliate of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family.

Stemberger is leading the petition drive to put on next year’s ballot a constitutional amendment to ban equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, which is already banned by statute. While a 2006 effort fell short, as of September 5, Florida4Marriage.org claimed to have gathered 594,000 of the 611,000 signatures they need to submit by February 1, making it likely that the amendment will be on the ballot in 2008.

Ken Blackwell

Blackwell is most famous as the controversial Ohio secretary of state during the 2004 election, overseeing voting laws while moonlighting as state co-chair for Bush/Cheney. But he has a long history of far-right activism on economic and civil rights issues, and in 2004 Blackwell forged an alliance with the Religious Right as he campaigned for an anti-gay ballot measure. By 2006, when Blackwell ran for governor, this alliance had grown into a church-based political machine, with megachurch pastors Rod Parsley and Russell Johnson taking Blackwell to rallies of “Patriot Pastors,” who signed on to a vision of a Christianity under attack by dark forces, in need of “restoration” through electoral politics. “This is a battle between the forces of righteousness and the hordes of hell,” declared Johnson.

Blackwell’s gubernatorial bid failed, but he continues his career as a right-wing activist with affiliations with the Family Research Council and the Club for Growth, as well as a column on Townhall.com.

Katherine Harris

Harris is well known for her controversial role in Florida’s 2000 presidential election debacle, when she served as both secretary of state, overseeing a “purge” of voter rolls as well as the recount itself, and as a state co-chair for Bush/Cheney. She was elected to the U.S. House in 2002 and 2004, and spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference in both 2002 and 2003.

In 2006 Harris made a quixotic Senate run, during which she heavily courted the Religious Right. In an interview with the Florida Baptist Witness, she implied that her opponent, Sen. Bill Nelson, was not a Christian, saying, “[I]f you’re not electing Christians then in essence you are going to legislate sin. They can legislate sin. They can say that abortion is alright. They can vote to sustain gay marriage. And that will take western civilization, indeed other nations because people look to our country as one nation as under God and whenever we legislate sin and we say abortion is permissible and we say gay unions are permissible, then average citizens who are not Christians, because they don’t know better, we are leading them astray and it’s wrong.” She also advised people to disbelieve “that lie we have been told, the separation of church and state.”

Tom Minnery

Minnery is vice president for public policy at Focus on the Family and a frequent spokesman for the group. He is the author of “Why You Can’t Stay Silent: A Biblical Mandate to Shape Our Culture,” arguing that society should be “changed from the top down morally.” Focus on the Family, with a combined budget of over $160 million, promotes far-right positions on social issues to millions of Americans through radio, print, and the web, and Focus founder James Dobson is probably the single most influential figure on the Religious Right.

“There are more than enough Christians to defeat the Left," Minnery said at a rally in South Dakota. "There are a lot of pastors who didn't want to be seen as an 'activist,' but this issue of marriage has left them with little choice but to get involved."