Issue in Wisconsin Is Homosexuality: Anti-Gay Opposes Lesbian Candidate

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This is one in an ongoing series on key national issues in the campaigns of 1998.

MADISON, Wis. - In the crowded race to replace retiring Rep. Scott L. Klug, two names have attracted nationwide attention: Republican Ron Greer, a Christian conservative who has waged a long fight against the "homosexual agenda," and Democrat Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin's only openly lesbian state legislator.

"We have the two most marginalized groups in America fighting it out here . . . it's like halftime at the Super Bowl," said John Sharpless, one of Mr. Greer's five GOP primary opponents. "But it has no relation with what's going on in the district."

Mr. Greer, a minister and an 18-year veteran of the city fire department, entered the race in June, immediately stealing the media spotlight from his lesser-known opponents. He comes with the backing of prominent religious conservatives, including Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council and broadcaster James Dobson.

He drew nationwide attention with a fund-raising letter calling Miss Baldwin a "left-wing lesbian" and saying she "wants to force her radical anti-family agenda on all Americans - including you and your family."

The letter drew criticism from Mr. Greer's opponents, Republicans and Democrats alike, and caused homosexual activists to rally to Miss Baldwin's defense.

Mr. Greer is "trying to gay-bash his way to victory in the Republican primary," said Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest homosexual political lobby.

While she is open about her sexual orientation, Miss Baldwin doesn't make it a campaign issue. Instead, she argues for a nationalized "single-payer" health care system similar to Canada's. Miss Baldwin did not return numerous telephone calls for comment, although she has been critical of Mr. Greer and other anti-homosexual activists.

"They're using emotional arguments, not the intellectual ones, because they don't have any," she said at a July rally.

Mr. Greer says he is in fact the one subjected to hateful attacks.

"I'm simply saying [homosexuality] is a sin, it's wrong," he said, "and all of a sudden I'm being hateful?"

"It's all right to have differences of opinion," he said, "but if I disagree with you, I should not be demonized."

Mr. Greer is not the only one criticizing homosexuality in Madison. In July, Wisconsin Christians United inflamed the debate, posting five billboards denouncing homosexuality as sinful. When homosexual groups staged a rally to protest the billboards, a plane flew over the crowd, displaying a banner reading "Homosexuality is a sin."

But homosexuality would not be an issue without Mr. Greer, say other candidates, who prefer to focus on tax and health care reform. …