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The funeral for Matthew Shepard, a gay college student brutally murdered by three white supremacists (see October 9, 1998 and After), is held in St. Mark’s Church in Casper, Wyoming. The service is led by the Reverend Anne Kitch. (CNN 10/13/1998; Louie Crew 10/14/1998) The Reverend Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, leads a small delegation of church members in a raucous denunciation of homosexuality at Shepard’s funeral. Phelps and his congregation members have picketed the funerals of gay men for years across the country, holding “God Hates Fags” signs and harassing family members. Governor Jim Geringer (R-WY) says he cannot prevent Phelps from attending the funeral, but vows that the protesters will not be allowed to disrupt it. Phelps’s group, Geringer says, is “just flat not welcome. What we don’t need is a bunch of wing nuts coming in.” For his part, Phelps, who claims he has received multiple death threats after announcing his journey to Laramie, says: “We’re not going to tolerate any violence from these homosexuals. They are the most violent people in the world. Here they are talking about what happened to this poor boy, and they turn around and make death threats against us.” Geringer, the Casper City Council, and several groups of gay activists succeeded in passing a regulation that keeps Phelps and his protesters 50 feet away from church property during the funeral. “[I]t was the best we could accomplish without risking an immediate court injunction for violating constitutional free speech,” reads a statement by the local chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans. “Such an injunction might have allowed Phelps to walk right up to the church property line.” (CNN 10/13/1998; Log Cabin Republicans 10/16/1998) Phelps and his fellow church members picket the funeral with signs reading, “Matt Shepard Rots in Hell,” “AIDS Kills Fags Dead,” and “God Hates Fags.” (Fact-Index 2004) Five years later, Phelps will attempt to erect a marker emblazoned with inflammatory statements about Shepard in a local park, to “commemorate” his death (see October 3, 2003).
Recent remarks by Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) alleging that granting rights to homosexuals would also grant Americans the right to commit incest, child rape, and bestiality (see April 7, 2003) draw heavy criticism from both pro-gay organizations and political opponents. Winnie Stachelberg of the gay advocacy organization Human Rights Campaign says: “Senator Santorum’s remarks are deeply hurtful and play on deep-seated fears that fly in the face of scientific evidence, common sense, and basic decency. Clearly, there is no compassion in his conservatism.” Stachelberg asks Republican Congressional leaders to repudiate Santorum’s remarks. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) calls on Santorum to resign as chairman of the Republican Senate Caucus, the number three position in the GOP leadership; Santorum does not do so. The DSCC’s Brad Woodhouse says, “Senator Santorum’s remarks are divisive, hurtful, and reckless and are completely out of bounds for someone who is supposed to be a leader in the United States Senate.” Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) says Santorum’s position is “out of step with our country’s respect for tolerance.” Senator John Kerry (D-MA), a Democratic presidential contender, criticizes the White House for not speaking out against Santorum’s statements, saying, “The White House speaks the rhetoric of compassionate conservatism, but they’re silent while their chief lieutenants make divisive and hurtful comments that have no place in our politics.” Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean (D-VT) joins in calls for Santorum to step down from the RSC post, saying: “Gay-bashing is not a legitimate public policy discussion; it is immoral. Rick Santorum’s failure to recognize that attacking people because of who they are is morally wrong makes him unfit for a leadership position in the United States Senate. Today, I call on Rick Santorum to resign from his post as Republican Conference chairman.” Patrick Guerriero of the Republican pro-gay group, the Log Cabin Republicans, says that Santorum should either apologize or step down from his post as RSC chair: “If you ask most Americans if they compare gay and lesbian Americans to polygamists and folks who are involved in incest and the other categories he used, I think there are very few folks in the mainstream who would articulate those views.” Santorum’s remarks make it difficult to characterize the GOP as inclusive, Guerriero adds. (Loughlin 4/23/2003; CNN 4/23/2003) Guerriero later tells a gay advocacy newspaper: “Log Cabin Republicans are entering a new chapter. We’re no longer thrilled simply about getting a meeting at the White House. We’re organized enough to demand full equality. I’ve heard that vibration since I’ve been in Washington—that people in the party are taking us for granted. To earn respect, we have to start demanding it.… One of the most disappointing things about this episode is that we’ve spent a lot of time with the senator trying to find common ground. This is how he repays us? There is a sad history of Republican leaders choosing to go down this path, and he should’ve known better.” Another, less prominent Republican pro-gay organization, the Republican Unity Coalition, denounces Santorum’s views but stands by his right to hold them. (Bull 6/10/2003) Some Republican senators join in criticizing Santorum. Susan Collins (R-ME) says Santorum’s choice of words is “regrettable” and his legal analysis “wrong.” Olympia Snowe (R-ME) says, “Discrimination and bigotry have no place in our society, and I believe Senator Santorum’s remarks undermine Republican principles of inclusion and opportunity.” Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) says: “I thought his choice of comparisons was unfortunate and the premise that the right of privacy does not exist—just plain wrong. Senator Santorum’s views are not held by this Republican and many others in our party.” Gordon Smith (R-OR) says that “America and the Republican Party” no longer equate “sexual orientation with sexual criminality. While Rick Santorum intended to reiterate the language of an old Supreme Court decision, he did so in a way that was hurtful to the gay and lesbian community.” And John McCain (R-AZ) says: “I think that he may have been inartful in the way that he described it. I believe that—coming from a person who has made several serious gaffes in my career—that the best thing to do is to apologize if you’ve offended anyone. Because I’m sure that Rick did not intend to offend anyone. Apologize if you did and move on.” (Salon 4/26/2003) The only openly gay member of the House of Representatives, Barney Frank (D-MA), says of Santorum: “The only surprise is he’s being honest about it. This kind of gay bashing is perfectly acceptable in the Republican Party.” Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), calls Santorum’s remarks “stunning” and adds: “Rick Santorum is afflicted with the same condition as Trent Lott—a small mind but a big mouth. [Gandy is referring to Lott’s forcible removal from his position as Senate majority leader in 2002 after making pro-segregation remarks.] He has refused to apologize and Republican leaders have either supported or ignored Santorum’s rants blaming societal ills on feminists, liberals, and particularly gays and lesbians. Far from being a compassionate conservative, Santorum’s lengthy and specific comments expose him as abusive, intolerant, and downright paranoid—a poor combination for a top Senate leader.” (People's World 5/7/2003)
Santorum: AP Story 'Misleading' - Santorum says the Associated Press story reporting his remarks was “misleading,” and says he was speaking strictly about a recent Supreme Court case striking down a Texas anti-sodomy law. “I am a firm believer that all are equal under the Constitution,” he says. “My comments should not be construed in any way as a statement on individual lifestyles.” When questioned by a gay Pennsylvanian about his remarks, he says his words were “taken out of context.” (The questioner says to Santorum: “You attacked me for who I am.… How could you compare my sexuality and what I do in the privacy of my home to bigamy or incest?” Santorum denies being intolerant of homosexuality, but repeats his stance that if states were not allowed to regulate homosexual activity in private homes, “you leave open the door for a variety of other sexual activities to occur within the home and not be regulated.”) However, CNN reports that, according to unedited excerpts of the audiotaped interview, “Santorum spoke at length about homosexuality and he made clear he did not approve of ‘acts outside of traditional heterosexual relationships.’ In the April 7 interview, Santorum describes homosexual acts as a threat to society and the family. ‘I have no problem with homosexuality,’ Santorum said, according to the AP. ‘I have a problem with homosexual acts.’” (Loughlin 4/23/2003; CNN 4/23/2003) In an interview on Fox News, Santorum says: “I do not need to give an apology based on what I said and what I’m saying now—I think this is a legitimate public policy discussion. These are not, you know, ridiculous, you know, comments. These are very much a very important point.… I was not equating one to the other. There is no moral equivalency there. What I was saying was that if you say there is an absolute right to privacy for consenting adults within the home to do whatever they want, [then] this has far-reaching ramifications, which has a very serious impact on the American family, and that is what I was talking about.… I am very disappointed that the article was written in the way it was and it has been construed the way it has. I don’t believe it was put in the context of which the discussion was made, which was rather a far-reaching discussion on the right to privacy.” (Salon 4/26/2003; Fox News 4/28/2003)
Bush Defends Santorum - After three days of remaining silent, President Bush issues a brief statement defending Santorum’s remarks, calling Santorum “an inclusive man.” In response, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) issues the following statement from chairman Terry McAuliffe: “President Bush is awfully selective in which American values he chooses to comment on. Rick Santorum disparaged and demeaned a whole segment of Americans and for that President Bush praises him. Three young women in the music business expressed their views and it warrants presidential action. I would suggest that rather than scold the Dixie Chicks (see March 10, 2003 and After), President Bush would best serve America by taking Rick Santorum to the woodshed.” (People's World 5/7/2003; Bull 6/10/2003)
Other Support - Some senators come to Santorum’s defense. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) says in a statement, “Rick is a consistent voice for inclusion and compassion in the Republican Party and in the Senate, and to suggest otherwise is just politics.” Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) blames the media for the controversy, saying: “He’s not a person who wants to put down anybody. He’s not a mean-spirited person. Regardless of the words he used, he wouldn’t try to hurt anybody.… We have 51 Republicans [in the Senate] and I don’t think anyone’s a spokesman for the Republican Party. We have a double standard. It seems that the press, when a conservative Republican says something, they jump on it, but they never jump on things Democrats say. So he’s partly going to be a victim of that double standard.” Santorum’s Pennsylvania colleague, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), says, “I have known Rick Santorum for the better part of two decades, and I can say with certainty he is not a bigot.” Asked if Santorum’s comments will hurt his re-election prospects, Specter says: “It depends on how it plays out. Washington is a town filled with cannibals. The cannibals devoured Trent Lott without cause. If the cannibals are after you, you are in deep trouble. It depends on whether the cannibals are hungry. My guess is that it will blow over.” Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) says, “Rick Santorum has done a great job, and is solid as a rock, and he’s not going anywhere.” A number of Republican senators, including Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), the only openly gay Republican in Congress, refuse to comment when asked. (Salon 4/26/2003) Gary Bauer, a powerful activist of the Christian Right who ran a longshot campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, says that “while some elites may be upset by [Santorum’s] comments, they’re pretty much in the mainstream of where most of the country is.” (Bull 6/10/2003) The conservative advocacy group Concerned Women for America says Santorum was “exactly right” in his statements and blames what it calls the “gay thought police” for the controversy. Genevieve Wood of the Family Research Council agrees, saying, “I think the Republican Party would do well to follow Senator Santorum if they want to see pro-family voters show up on Election Day.” (Loughlin 4/23/2003) Joseph Farah, the publisher of the conservative online news blog WorldNetDaily (WND), says that Santorum was the victim of a “setup” by the Associated Press, and Lara Jakes Jordan, the reporter who wrote the story should be fired. Santorum’s remarks “were dead-on target and undermine the entire homosexual political agenda,” Farah writes. “Santorum articulated far better and more courageously than any elected official how striking down laws against sodomy will lead inevitably to striking down laws against incest, bigamy, and polygamy. You just can’t say consenting adults have an absolute right to do what they want sexually without opening that Pandora’s box.” He accuses the AP of launching what he calls a “hatchet job” against Santorum, designed to take down “a young, good-looking, articulate conservative in the Senate’s Republican leadership.” The AP reporter who interviewed Santorum, Lara Jakes Jordan, is, he says, “a political activist disguised as a reporter.” Farah notes that Jordan is married to Democratic operative Jim Jordan, who works for the Kerry campaign, and in the past Jordan has criticized the AP for not granting benefits to gay domestic partners. Thusly, Farah concludes: “It seems Mrs. Jordan’s ideological fervor is not reserved only for her private life and her corporate politicking. This woman clearly ambushed Santorum on an issue near and dear to her bleeding heart.” (Farah 4/28/2003)
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