Last edited: February 06, 2005

Arrest Gay Congressman, Far Right Says

Right Wing Acts Up As Convention Approaches, July 29, 2000

By John Aravosis

Only days before the Republican convention, the religious right is sowing seeds of trouble by demanding the arrest of a Member of Congress who is to speak at the convention, simply because he is gay. Could this latest flare-up with social conservatives threaten the convention and Mr. Bush’s waning relations with the religious right?

Arrest the Gays

A leading religious right organization, the American Family Association (AFA), distributed a letter calling for the arrest of gay Congressman, and Republican convention speaker, Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), simply because he is gay.

In an email action alert dated July 28, 2000, and entitled "Arrest Mr. Kolbe," the AFA includes a letter to Republican National Committee (RNC) Chair Jim Nicholson from Phil Burress, Chairman of "Equal Rights not Special Rights" based in Cincinnati, Ohio. The letter states that Mr. Kolbe, who is gay, is slated to be a speaker at the upcoming Republican Convention. It goes on to say: "Mr. Kolbe as a self described homosexual means nothing except to say he engages in sodomy. Did you know that in Arizona, sodomy is against the law? Mr. Kolbe should be arrested when he returns to his home state for violating state law."

AFA appeared receptive to the letter’s message, calling the letter "excellent," and referring to Mr. Burress as a "good friend and ally." In addition, the alert includes contact information for RNC chair Nicholson, and more information on Arizona’s sodomy statute.

The incredible demand to arrest gay people simply based on their sexual orientation comes only two days before the start of the Republican Convention, and amidst a number of recent indications that Mr. Bush is distancing himself from the religious right wing of his party.

Bush Moves Left

Mr. Bush campaigns under the banner of "compassionate conservatism," though many of his positions - on tax cuts and abortion, for example - place him at the more right-wing end of his party, leading some to question whether the candidate is simply a traditional conservative. But of late, the Bush campaign has seemed at pains to distance itself from the far right, meaning that either the candidate’s views are moving to the middle, or that he senses the need to present a more moderate face to win the national election.

One example of this moderation was earlier this year when Mr. Bush met with a group of gay Republicans (and subsequently invited them to help campaign for him), then rebuffed a similar request to meet from religious right representatives concerned about his overture to gays and lesbians. Relations grew even frostier when the social conservatives requested a meeting a second time, and immediately leaked their request to the press (that meeting was denied as well).

Then this past week, amidst news reports that his Vice Presidential choice, Dick Cheney, had a gay daughter, online reporter Matt Drudge reported that: " ‘The governor believes Mr. Cheney has a wonderful family,’ a top Bush source said this week in Austin. ‘Being gay or lesbian is not a liability in this campaign. The governor embraces both of Mr. Cheney’s daughters and will invite them to campaign with him.’ " Mr. Bush’s response is at clear odds with the thinking of social conservatives about homosexuality, as specifically evidenced in the letter attacking Mr. Kolbe as a criminal.

As further evidence of a move by Mr. Bush to the social center, the Republican platform committee reportedly just eliminated portions of the platform calling for the elimination of the Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Arts (longtime demands of the far-right). In addition, the committee was said to have removed platform language opposing the passage of gay rights laws (though that language was subsequently reinstated: "We do not believe sexual preference should be given special legal protection or standing in law’’), and weakened language that opposed gay marriage (the platform did, however, retained its pro-life stance).

Religious Right Strikes Back

Bush’s machinations towards the middle have not gone unchallenged. The retention of the anti-abortion planks, and the reinstatement of the anti-gay language (not to mention the attack on Kolbe), evidence a wing of the party whose demise may have been exaggerated, or at least whose demise will not go unchallenged. Social conservatives have laid down the gauntlet, but in their apparent attempt to retain a semblance of influence, they threaten to make themselves even less relevant.

While no one is surprised by their ongoing devotion to the anti-abortion and anti-gay agenda, the religious right’s call for Kolbe’s arrest (and implicitly the arrest of all gay Americans) is simply bizarre, and sure to get national news coverage. Clearly that’s their goal, to prove an ongoing relevance to the social debate (and Republican agenda). But by doing so in such an odd and extreme (if not dumb) way, social conservatives suggest that they are not only desperate, but losing their political edge. In the end, their own outrageous effort to battle insignificance may seal their fate, making them as irrelevant as they fear.

Bush Could Benefit

While the attack on Kolbe threatens to embarrass Mr. Bush just as the convention begins, if handled correctly, the religious right may have done the Republican nominee a huge favor. Just as Bush used the Cheney-gay revelation to show his compassion and moderation, he is likely to turn the attack on Kolbe to his advantage. By defending Kolbe and exposing the attack as absurdly intolerant, Bush can prove his loyalty to a colleague and his "compassion." Such values while perhaps lost on the far-right, are sure to resonate with the moderate middle, and to Mr. Bush’s advantage.

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