Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Mixing Religion and Politics

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Mixing Religion and Politics

Article excerpt

Republican presidential hopefuls can't avoid getting into bed with the religious right

Gary Bauer was at a loss for words. The smooth-talking president of the Family Research Council, a powerful religious conservative group in Washington, D.C., had gone to Harvard University in April to talk about foreign policy. But during a question-and-answer session after his speech, he was peppered with students' question's about his group's antigay lobbying efforts. As he finished answering one question, a student yelled, "History will shame you, Mr. Bauer." Bauer recoiled visibly, pausing to compose himself before taking another question.

One month later Bauer mailed out a self-congratulatory fund-raising letter commending his own courage for going to Harvard to take on what he called the "homosexual creed." "No one wants to be heckled or shouted down on a college campus by homosexual activists--people who answer even the mildest criticism of their agenda with rage, personal attacks, and often violence," Bauer wrote despite having thanked his heavily gay Harvard audience for its "civil of the discourse" at the time.

The Harvard skirmish was particularly noteworthy because Bauer has flirted openly in recent months with joining the early GOP presidential sweepstakes in 2000. If Bauer were to become a candidate, he would instantly become the favorite to garner support from religious-right activists, who wield considerable power in early Republican primaries in the Northeast. With antigay religious conservatives on the offensive in the GOP, Bauer is not the only White House aspirant appealing to antigay sentiments. Missouri senator John Ashcroft and publishing magnate Steve Forbes, among others, have also made it a staple of their appeals [see profiles below].

The religious right has become such a powerful voting bloc that the Republican Party ignores it at its own peril," says Rob Boston, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington, D.C.-- based advocacy group that monitors religious conservatives. Indeed, the 1996 presidential bid of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), a political moderate, lost momentum after he criticized religious-right groups. "When moderates in the party look at what happened to Specter, they come away shaking their heads," Boston adds. "That could spell trouble for the gay community."

But the religious right's influence--and the stridency of the antigay rhetoric by its candidates--could also spell trouble for the Republicans' chances in the general election. "For Republicans to actually win the White House, [the party] needs all of its constituencies, including the religious right," says John Green, a professor of political science at the University of Akron in Ohio and a well-known expert, on religious conservatives. "But by catering too much to one constituency, they risk alienating not only other elements of their coalition but the rest of the country as well."

In fact, James Dobson, Bauer's patron and president of the massive Focus on the Family, a $116-million-a-year ministry based in Colorado Springs, Colo., has threatened to bring down the GOP if it does not adhere more closely to his political agenda. "I believe a Republican meltdown is preferable to enabling the present disregard for the moral agenda to continue," he wrote in an April 3 fundraising letter.

With Bauer's assistance, Dobson has supplanted Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson and the Moral Majority's Jerry Falwell as the religious right's highest-profile power broker, endorsing several Republican candidates for the House in 1998, including the comeback bid of long-time gay rights nemesis Robert Doman. …

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