Few anti-LGBT groups get as much media attention as the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the right-wing legal organization best known for defending anti-gay business owners who refuse to comply with nondiscrimination laws. But while ADF's "religious liberty" work generates plenty of headlines, few media outlets have highlighted the most extreme facet of ADF's legal agenda: criminalizing homosexuality.
ADF is a multimillion dollar Christian legal organization that's garnered national attention over the past several months thanks to its work defending anti-gay business owners who refuse to serve same-sex couples. It's been described as "the 800-pound gorilla of the Christian right," and media outlets are increasingly reporting on the group's legal efforts. ADF has become a fixture on Fox News, but its involvement in crafting Arizona's license-to-discriminate law in early 2014 attracted coverage from other networks as well. In October, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat apologized after he spoke at an ADF fundraiser.
But aside from a handful of examples, media outlets have failed to highlight just how extreme ADF's anti-gay agenda really is. While the group prefers to talk about its "religious liberty" work when in the media spotlight, ADF is actively working to promote and defend anti-sodomy laws that criminalize gay sex.
ADF's formal support for anti-sodomy laws dates to at least 2003, before the Supreme Court made its landmark decision in Lawrence v. Texas. ADF, which was at the time still known as the Alliance Defense Fund, filed an amicus brief in the case, defending state laws criminalizing gay sex. In its brief, ADF spent nearly 30 pages arguing that gay sex is unhealthy, harmful, and a public-health risk:
[S]ame-sex sodomy is far more effective in spreading STDs than opposite-sex sodomy. Multiple studies have estimated that 40 percent or more of men who practice anal sex acquire STDs. In fact, same-sex sodomy has resulted in the transformation of diseases previously transmitted only through fecally contaminated food and water into sexually causes diseases -- primarily among those who practice same-sex sodomy.
The issue under rational-basis review is not whether Texas should be concerned about opposite-sex sodomy, but whether it is reasonable to believe that same-sex sodomy is a distinct public health problem. It clearly is. [emphasis added]
In 2003, ADF president Alan Sears co-wrote a book titled The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing The Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today, which warned that eliminating anti-sodomy lawswould lead to the overturning of "laws against pedophilia, sex between close relatives, polygamy, bestiality and all other distortions and violations of God's plan."
The Supreme Court disagreed, striking down state bans on gay sex in its Lawrence v. Texas decision. But over a decade later, ADF continues to argue that Lawrence was wrongly decided. In 2011, ADF senior counsel Kevin Theriot criticized then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for making the case that "the freedom to engage in homosexual behavior" is a "basic human right." Theriot also wrote that "claiming a legal right to engage in homosexual behavior comes at the cost of religious freedom."
But while ADF has largely run out of options for promoting the criminalization of homosexuality in America, the group has taken its anti-sodomy agenda overseas. ADF's "Foreign Threats" page urges supporters to contribute to ADF's international efforts to "help stop devastating rulings" against religious freedom like Lawrence, which ADF claims "fabricate[d] legal protection for homosexual sodomy":
An NBC affiliate in Arizona aired a softball interview with Cathi Herrod, the state's leading anti-LGBT culture warrior. But while the segment depicted Herrod as a victimized Christian activist, it ignored her history of peddling extreme smears about the LGBT community while fighting against basic legal protections for gays and lesbians.
On November 7, NBC's Phoenix affiliate Channel 12 News aired an interview with Herrod, the president of the right-wing Center for Arizona Policy (CAP). A promo for the segment described Herrod's critics as being "hypocritical," depicting her as a "Christian catching hell" because of her religious beliefs.
The interview itself, conducted by Channel 12 anchor Lin Sue Cooney, similarly painted Herrod as a victim of "hate" from LGBT activists. The segment, which highlighted Herrod's Christian faith and upbringing, described her work as "protecting traditional values":
But Channel 12's description of Herrod's work glossed over the extremism that motivates her and her organization's anti-LGBT work.
An article published on Cleveland.com falsely suggested that the city's proposed gender identity non-discrimination ordinance would be exploited by men who want to sneak into women's restrooms and showers.
The Cleveland City Council is considering an ordinance that would expand the city's non-discrimination law to prohibit business from denying transgender people access to restrooms or facilities that correspond with their gender identity.
In a November 6 article published on Cleveland.com, Northeast Ohio Media Group (NEOMG) reporter Leila Atassi claimed the legislation would "open all public restrooms and showers to both sexes":
In an effort to help transgendered people feel more comfortable using public restrooms, Cleveland City Council is considering an ordinance that would require businesses to make their restrooms, showers and locker rooms available to both sexes.
And barring one gender from using a facility designated for the other would be a crime punishable by a $1,000 fine.
The measure, which will be discussed at a Workforce and Community Benefits Committee meeting Wednesday, is part of a package of ordinances that update the city's existing anti-discrimination laws to include the transgender community. (Read the legislation in the document viewer below.)
Councilmen Joe Cimperman and Matt Zone, who sponsored the legislation dealing with the "public accommodations" of private businesses, said in interviews Thursday that the measure is designed to give transgender people the power to use whichever restroom aligns with their gender identity.
Texas conservatives failed to submit enough valid signatures to put Houston's city-wide non-discrimination ordinance up for a public vote in November. Now those conservatives, led by Fox News, are pressuring the city to accept signatures determined to be improperly collected or otherwise irregular in order to "let the people vote" to repeal the measure.
In August, opponents of Houston's recently enacted Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) reportedly submitted more than the seventeen thousand signatures needed to qualify put the measure on the November ballot. However, upon review of the petition under the City Charter, City Attorney David Feldman determined that thousands of the signatures failed to meet the legal requirements set by local and state law for a voter referendum. As explained by the Mayor's office:
"The Charter requirements are in place to ensure a fair and legal process, absent of fraud," said City Attorney David Feldman. "In this instance, there are too many documents with irregularities and problems to overlook. The petition is simply invalid. There is no other conclusion."
"I fully expect the petitioners will want to fight this decision at the courthouse," said Mayor Annise Parker. "I am confident the courts will agree that the rules set out in our Charter and state law to protect the integrity of the process should be followed and that the results of our review will be upheld. The judicial review will provide additional assurance to the voters that the process has been fair."
On November 2, thousands of conservatives met in Houston at the "I Stand Sunday" rally to demand that the city government allow for a public vote on the ordinance, despite the failure of the repeal petition. The event, which was hosted by the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council (FRC), was widely promoted by Fox News and featured speeches from Fox's Todd Starnes and Mike Huckabee.
At the rally, speakers demanded that the city of Houston "let the people vote" on the ordinance, accusing openly gay Mayor Annise Parker of violating the religious liberty of HERO's opponents by refusing to count their improperly collected signatures:
Fox News helped turn a bogus story about subpoenas sent to a handful of Houston pastors into a national rallying cry for religious liberty. Now the network is helping promote an event that will pit some of the country's most extreme anti-LGBT voices against the city's nondiscrimination ordinance.
In May, the city of Houston made history by enacting the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), a measure that prohibits discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and several other categories. The ordinance was championed by the city's first openly gay mayor, Democrat Annise Parker.
Opponents of HERO -- led by the Houston Area Pastor Council -- responded by launching an effort to put a repeal of the ordinance on the ballot in November. Their campaign peddled the myth that HERO would allow men and sexual predators to enter women's restrooms -- a myth that was widely circulated by local media. Though opponents submitted the required number of signatures to put the repeal on the ballot, City Attorney Dave Feldman determined that many of the signatures were collected improperly, and the city announced that not enough valid signatures had been collected.
Opponents quickly filed a lawsuit to have the signatures reviewed, prompting the city to respond by issuing subpoenas to five local pastors for a broad range of documents -- including sermons and personal communications -- related to their opposition to HERO.
On October 14, Fox News reporter and serial misinformer Todd Starnes broke the news of the subpoenas, misleadingly characterizing them as an "attempt to deconstruct religious liberty" and describing HERO as a "bathroom bill." Starnes' report relied heavily on spin from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the extreme right-wing legal group representing the pastors in their effort to quash the subpoenas. ADF attorney Christina Holcomb called the subpoenas "an inquisition designed to stifle any critique of [the city's] actions."
Before long, Starnes' report made the jump to Fox News' airwaves. On October 15, Starnes appeared on The Kelly File to discuss the story, describing HERO as a measure that would let "men who identify as women" to use women's restrooms:
Starnes' appearance was followed by a barrage of misleading segments about the story, all of which depicted the subpoenas as an attack on religious liberty. Multiple Fox personalities incorrectly described the subpoenas as part of the enforcement of HERO, suggesting that the ordinance might criminalize anti-gay speech. Others repeated Starnes' lie that HERO would allow men to use women's restrooms. By the end of the week, in just three days of coverage, Fox had spent nearly thirty minutes of airtime peddling its Houston horror story*.
Fox's panicked coverage was grossly misleading and left out crucial details about the anti-HERO lawsuit. But it worked perfectly as a right-wing horror story about Christians being victimized by a city's attempt to protect LGBT people.
Soon, Houston had become -- as one Fox anchor put it -- "ground zero for religious liberty." Conservative media outlets quickly regurgitated the victimization spin from Starnes and ADF. Conservative groups -- led by the notorious anti-gay hate group the Family Research Council (FRC) -- began organizing "I Stand Sunday," a November 2 rally in Houston to support the pastors who had been "unduly intimidated by the city's Mayor."
An attorney for anti-LGBT extremist group the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) peddled the myth that the story of Matthew Shepard's brutal anti-gay murder was fabricated in order to advance the "homosexual agenda."
On October 27, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission held its annual national conference in Nashville, Tennessee. The conference, "The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage," featured a presentation led by attorneys from the notoriously anti-LGBT legal group ADF.
During the presentation, ADF attorney Erik Stanley told the audience that "the end game of the homosexual legal agenda is unfettered sexual liberty and the silencing of all dissent." After lamenting the fact that television shows like Modern Family had "normalized homosexual behavior," Stanley went on to claim that the "narrative" of Matthew Shepard's brutal murder had been "debunked":
The Guardian helped peddle a thoroughly discredited book alleging that Matthew Shepard was murdered in a drug-related incident, even though lawyers and investigators involved in the case have denounced the book as "fictional."
On October 25, The Guardian published an article by columnist Julie Bindel titled "The truth behind America's most famous gay-hate murder." The report focuses on the widely discredited 2013 book The Book of Matt, in which author Stephen Jimenez attempts to make the case that Matthew Shepard's brutal murder in 1998 was drug-related and not, as it is widely believed, motivated by anti-gay hate.
The book has been criticized for relying on shoddy sources and omitting key facts about the case, prompting the Matthew Shepard Foundation to condemn the book for being based on rumors and innuendo.
Jimenez's book has been described as "fictional" by the lead detective in the case. People familiar with the murder - including one of the killer's appellate attorneys, Albany County Sheriff Dave O'Malley, and Albany County Undersheriff Robert Debree - have condemned the book as factually challenged.
But Bindel didn't include those criticisms in her piece. Instead, she portrayed Jimenez as a victim of gay activists' blind desire to hide the truth about Shepard's murder:
Jimenez has faced a barrage of criticism since the publication of his book and has had readings to promote the book boycotted. Jimenez claims, however, that many of his critics have not actually read it.
"People object to the idea of the book, rather than what is in the book," says Jimenez. "The anger directed at me has been pretty extreme."
[T]he mystery remains - not so much why Matthew died, but why the gay community, after almost five decades of campaigning for equal rights, relies so fundamentally on the image of the perfect martyr to represent the cause.
Conservative media outlets are promoting the cause of an Idaho wedding chapel suing so it can deny services to gay couples, inaccurately portraying the chapel as a religious institution rather than as a for-profit business.
On October 17, the anti-gay legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit against the city of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, on behalf of the chapel, which is called the Hitching Post. The lawsuit alleges that the city's non-discrimination ordinance would force owners Donald and Evelyn Knapp to violate their religious beliefs by performing same-sex weddings, despite the fact they had previously offered to officiate non-religious ceremonies without complaint.
ADF is using the lawsuit to revive the right-wing horror story that churches and clergy members will be forced to perform gay weddings. ADF senior legal counsel Jeremy Tedesco stated in a news release, "Many have denied that pastors would ever be forced to perform ceremonies that are completely at odds with their faith, but that's what is happening here."
Right-wing media, led by Fox News reporter Todd Starnes, have echoed ADF's spin. Starnes was the first to misrepresent the case, writing:
What in heaven's name is happening to our country, folks? I was under the assumption that churches and pastors would not be impacted by same-sex marriage.
But conservative reports about the Hitching Post lawsuit have omitted important facts about the case:
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat apologized for appearing at a fundraising event for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an extreme anti-gay legal group working to criminalize homosexuality.
On October 16, Douthat spoke at "The Price of Citizenship: Losing Religious Freedom in America," an event held by ADF and aimed at drawing attention to a number of popular right-wing horror stories about the threat LGBT equality poses to religious liberty. Douthat spoke alongside radio host Hugh Hewitt and the Benham brothers, who are notorious for their history of extreme anti-gay, anti-choice, and anti-Muslim rhetoric. The event ended with explicit solicitations for donations to support ADF's legal work.
As Media Matters noted, ADF is one of the most extreme anti-gay legal groups in the country, fighting against even basic legal protections for LGBT people and working internationally to repress LGBT human rights, including supporting Belize's draconian law criminalizing gay sex.
On Wednesday, Douthat explained that he did not know ADF's event was a fundraiser and said he plans to decline the honorarium he received from the event.
"I was not aware in advance that this event was a fundraiser and had I known, I would not have agreed to participate," he said in a statement issued to Media Matters through the Times Wednesday. "I was invited by an events organizing group, not by ADF directly. I understood this to be a public conversation about religious liberty. This is my fault for not doing my due diligence, and I will be declining the honorarium."
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat spoke at a fundraising event for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a right-wing legal group that works to defend anti-LGBT discrimination and supported the criminalization of homosexuality.
On October 16, ADF held an event titled "The Price of Citizenship: Losing Religious Freedom in America" in Denton, Texas. The event, which focused primarily on highlighting the alleged tension between LGBT equality and religious liberty, featured a conversation between radio show host Hugh Hewitt and Douthat.
The event also featured an appearance from the Benham brothers, the right-wing activists who lost their HGTV reality show because of their history of extreme anti-gay, anti-choice, and anti-Muslim rhetoric:
The event touched on a number of popular right-wing horror stories about LGBT equality, from the plight of anti-gay bakers and florists, to the outrage over the recent subpoenaing of several Houston pastors. David Benham, who has previously warned that the gay "agenda" is "attacking the nation," urged the audience to take "dominion" of the media and legal system back from the "sexual anarchy agenda":
DAVID BENHAM: Unfortunately, the church, now that we have the keys to authority that Christ gives the Christian church, we give that dominion back through our silence. And so what we see now is the struggle for dominion. And one of the ways that we've lost dominion is because Christians, unfortunately, don't believe in the sovereignty of God. God is sovereign over all things. The Bible says in Psalm 24 "the Earth is the Lord's and everything in it," including government, entertainment, media, education, the legal system, everything. My finances, my sexuality, everything is under God. ... Does this agenda, this sexual anarchy agenda, does it want dominion? Take a look. Has it got dominion in government? Has it got dominion in entertainment? Has it got dominion, I mean, you name it, in the marketplace? Yes. Absolutely it does. How does God get dominion back? ... The government exists for the punishment of evildoers and for the reward of those who do good. The problem is, is when we switch good and evil and evil and good. There's only one institution that can fight that dominion battle, and that's the church. [emphasis added]