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. Bushs 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 letters 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 Arizonas 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
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 candidates views are moving to
the middle, or that he senses the need to present a more moderate face to win the national
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. Cheneys daughters and will invite them to campaign
with him. " Mr. Bushs 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
Bushs 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 rights call for Kolbes arrest (and implicitly the arrest
of all gay Americans) is simply bizarre, and sure to get national news coverage. Clearly
thats 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. Bushs advantage.
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