Under the guise of religious compassion, the Christian Right is intensifying its anti-gay campaign at a time when hate crimes against lesbians and gay men, like the fatal assault on 22-year-old Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard, are still pervasive, a new study shows.
The so-called "ex-gay" movement, now being touted in television ads across the country, asserts that people can be "converted" to heterosexuality by embracing fundamentalist Christian doctrine or through "reparative therapy." These claims have been rejected by the medical community and repudiated by most national religious organizations.
The ex-gay movement "provides political cover for a significant new phase of the Christian Right's long-running anti-gay campaign," according to the report, "Calculated Compassion: How the Ex-Gay Movement Serves The Right's Attack on Democracy." The three-year study is the first comprehensive examination of the political role of this movement. It was commissioned by the Boston-based research center Political Research Associates (PRA), the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington, D.C., and Equal Partners in Faith, a national network of religious leaders.
"The Christian Right has been under pressure to soften its homophobic rhetoric," said Surina Khan, author of the report and a PRA research analyst. "The ex-gay movement provides a 'kinder, gentler' camouflage for pursuing its political objectives. It's no coincidence that this movement and its message are being strenuously promoted in the run-up to the elections."
The report provides evidence that "most mainstream religious leaders and religious organizations...do not share the views of the ex-gay movement about homosexuality." The Family Research Council, the Christian Coalition and other promoters of the ex-gay movement assert that homosexuality is a "sin to be overcome," said Khan. That view not only allows that gay people are denied constitutional rights on religious grounds, she said. It contradicts the beliefs of most communities of faith in the country, including the Roman Catholic Church, the National Council of Churches, and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
The report reiterates that the ex-gay movement, while posing as a religious-based initiative, is part of a wider political assault on the civil rights of the gay community. "The Christian Right's message about ex-gay conversion echoes the sentiment of our political adversaries," said Kerry Lobel, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "We have already seen a chorus of anti-gay rhetoric in Congress, as well as the alarming persistence of anti-gay hate crimes. The fundamentalists have forged an alliance with those in Congress and other elected offices bent on denying constitutional rights to this segment of the population."
The Rev. Meg Riley, co-chair of Equal Partners in Faith, said religious leaders have not spoken out enough in defense of pluralism and tolerance in recent years. "The ex-gay movement has gone largely unchallenged in many faith communities, giving the Christian right a powerful vehicle for justifying discrimination in the name of religion. "
The report also documents that the ex-gay movement is devoid of reputable scholarship. Major professional institutions including the American Psychological Association and the American Medical Association have long rejected the notion that lesbians and gay men can be "cured." Homosexuality was removed from the APA's official list of emotional and mental disorders 25 years ago.
The Rev. Ken Brooker Langston of Equal Partners in Faith worries that the ex-gay movement will lead to "intolerance in the name of will be influenced by an idea that is not only bad science but bogus theology," he said. "The faith community is no place to promote discrimination of any kind."