Anti-gay extremist group has ties to San Diego
Published Thursday, 30-Jun-2005 in issue 914
BEYOND THE BRIEFS: sex, politics and law
by Robert DeKoven
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLV) has been at the forefront in fighting hatred by white supremacist groups. However, SPLV has now focused on religious supremacists and their attacks on gays and lesbians. A study by SPLV shows that the level of hatred towards gays by religious conservatives is comparable to the hate aimed at African-Americans in the past.
One of the groups listed in the study, Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), has strong ties to major issues in San Diego. The group, for example, funds the litigation costs in Chase Harper’s action against Poway High School officials for prohibiting him from wearing a T-shirt with anti-gay slogans.
The ADF is also involved in the legal and political campaign to keep the cross atop public property on Mt. Soledad.
According to an article in the Southern Voice, the Lawrence v. Texas decision, coupled with the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, prompted the religious right to point to the “homosexual agenda,” and prompted more virulent anti-gay attacks, said Mark Potok of SPLV.
The Montgomery, Ala.-based organization’s recent edition of its quarterly magazine, the Intelligence Report, chronicled the history of anti-gay messages from religious conservatives in a cover story titled, “Holy War: The Religious Right’s Crusade Against Gays Heats Up.” The magazine traces the 30-year history of the religious right’s anti-gay efforts.
“Their tone [against homosexuality] has become quite amazing after the Lawrence decision,” Potok told Southern Voice. “What was really striking was while the Klan and neo-Nazis spoke out against the Lawrence decision, the really vicious statements came from well-known leaders of the Christian right.”
After the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws and same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts, religious right groups, including the ADF and American Vision, ratcheted up fundraising efforts and poured millions of dollars into TV, newspaper and radio ads as part of last year’s successful campaigns to ban same-sex marriage in 13 states, including Georgia.
American Vision is a group dedicated to Christian “reconstructionism” that includes supporting the death penalty for homosexuals.
“What was really striking was while the Klan and neo-Nazis spoke out against the ‘Lawrence’ decision, the really vicious statements came from well-known leaders of the Christian right.”
While we’ve tracked these anti-gay groups, such as Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council, now the SPLV – which monitors hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan – labels them as extremist groups.
Attorneys Morris Dees and Joe Levin founded the center as a small civil rights firm in 1971 in Montgomery, Ala. The organization continues to monitor white supremacist groups as well as the rise of anti-immigration sentiment and other extremist activity. The center never in its 34-year history took aim at the religious right before now, but the rising volume of the national debate over same-sex marriage puts such groups in the limelight.
“Our bailiwick is extremism,” Potok said. “We’ve avoided the Christian Right in the past, and we don’t feel we’ve expanded to include the Christian Right – we feel very strongly they have entered our world [of extremism].”
The personal vilification and the false science against gay men and lesbians issued by institutions of the religious right are not only hateful, but dangerous.
“It is quite remarkable how they claim to hate the sin but love the sinner. That’s an absurd claim. We have reports that clearly show this kind of rhetoric paves the way to violence,” Potok said. “Without question, gay men and lesbians are the most attacked group – and the hate crimes toward them are more violent.”
The typical hate crime offender is a white man between the ages of 14 and 21, and offenders often say they are simply acting out the wishes of the larger community, Potok said.
So when Christian leaders spout anti-gay messages and preachers sermonize on the “moral intrinsic evil” of homosexuals, as Catholic church officials have stated, there is little doubt the language leads to violence, Potok added.
“These leaders are acting in a sense as permission-givers for violence,” he said.
So doesn’t the First Amendment protect these groups? The First Amendment doesn’t shield murder. Right-wing extremist Eric Rudolph is serving a life sentence in a federal prison for bombing a gay club in Atlanta. While extremist groups may disavow murderers like Rudolph, it was only a few weeks ago when senators and Congress members blamed the murders of judges (and their families) on rulings like decriminalizing sodomy and allowing same-sex marriage. These groups give murderers a license to murder.
Robert DeKoven is a professor at California Western School of Law.

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