Sometimes I’m amazed by the rapid success of the gay rights movement. Homosexuality, the love that dare not speak its name, is now spoken freely, while homophobia has quickly become the hate that dare not speak its name – at least if one is running for higher office.
On ABC’s This Week, presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann was asked about a statement she made in 2006 calling homosexuality “personal bondage, personal despair, and personal enslavement.” Bachmann declined to say whether she still believed her previous tirade: “I am not running to be any person’s judge. And I give – I ascribe dignity and honor to all people, no matter who they are. And that’s how I view people.” She continued equivocating on NBC’s Meet the Press: “I don’t judge them. I don’t judge them,” she told host David Gregory. “I’m running for the presidency of the United States.”
For her entire political career Michele Bachmann practically walked around in a black robe and slammed LGBT people over the head with a gavel. Now this modern day Anita Bryant suddenly isn’t judgmental? Bachmann’s incredible copout is about as believable as Joan Rivers running for president and suddenly claiming that she never told jokes.
Her husband Marcus was just as disingenuous during a heated exchange with Iowa State University professor Warren Blumenfeld: “I do not use reparative therapy, none of our clinic therapists do. What we do is we counsel; we talk to [patients] about whatever they want to talk about….There is not anything that comes close to reparative therapy.”
It is not surprising to hear the Bachmann’s dissemble. After all, lying comes as easily to them as breathing. What is shocking is that they now view outright anti-gay bigotry as detrimental to winning national office. Even in a virulently anti-everything GOP presidential primary, candidates like Bachmann are toning down the overt gay bashing.
The Bachmann family is not alone. Christine O’Donnell, occasional witch and former Delaware Republican Senate candidate, appeared on CNN’s Piers Morgan Show and refused to answer questions on her past anti-gay extremism, which included running her very own “ex-gay” ministry called Savior’s Alliance for Lifting the Truth (SALT).
When asked about marriage equality, she obfuscated and then robotically repeated that she was there to “talk about the issues I chose to talk about” in her new book. When pressed by Morgan, she accused the host of being rude. It wasn’t too long ago that O’Donnell would have accused Morgan of being discourteous if he had not asked her about her signature issue. As the polls change, however, so do the interests of ambitious politicians who want to be seen as mainstream.
At the very moment conservative politicians are running away from the gay, Religious Right activists are becoming more extreme. For example, Linda Harvey exemplified the radicalism this week on her radio show: “We could also close down homosexual bars and bathhouses, that would be a start. God never created people to engage in these unnatural acts.”
Tony Perkins, leader of the Family Research Council, a certified Southern Poverty Law Center Hate group, attacked President Barack Obama last week for his participation in Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better Project,” which is designed to keep bullied LGBT youth from committing suicide.
“It’s disgusting,” Perkins wrote in a fundraising letter, “And it’s part of a concerted effort to persuade kids that homosexuality is okay and actually to recruit them into that ‘lifestyle.'”
The big question: how long will these fringe activists continue to nod and wink, before they think slick politicians like Bachmann and O’Donnell stink?
We already saw the first evidence of backlash from The Media Research Center’s L. Brent Bozell who called O’Donnell a “buffoon” that “made an ass of herself.”
It is easy to see why candidates are beginning to inch away from the more insane positions of anti-gay activists. In a recent New York Times op-ed, two political scientists wrote that the Tea Party “is even less popular than much maligned groups like ‘atheists’ and ‘Muslims.’ Interestingly, one group that approaches it in unpopularity is the Christian Right.”
And what is the Christian Right if not a group defined by its opposition to abortion and disdain for LGBT people?
The delicate dance between GOP candidates and fringe activists will continue to play out. Pollsters are imparting to candidates that remaining stealth on gay issues is better for their long-term political health, while socially conservative organizations are making the case that gay bashing is better for their political wealth in terms of money and enthusiastic voters.
Attacking LGBT people is not yet a third rail of politics. It is also clear that it is no longer the Holy Grail for electing Republicans that it once was in the not too distant past.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”