’Americans for Truth’ Too Homophobic Even for Maine Marriage Equality Opponents

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday October 29, 2009

Marriage equality opponents in Maine offer arguments against domestic parity for gay and lesbian families that some may find dubious: unsupported (and, say state authorities, spurious) claims that unless marriage rights for for gays are repealed, school children will have to learn about gay families in schools; the oft-repeated but ill-explained notion that marriage rights for gay couples will erode marriage for heterosexuals; concerns that religious freedoms will automatically be trampled if family freedoms are expanded.

But there's one anti-gay group that is so far beyond the pale that even the state's opposition to legal recognition for gay and lesbian families don't want to be associated with them: the people behind anti-gay blog Americans for Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH). Stand for Marriage Maine, the state's official campaign to pass the anti-gay ballot initiative, was quick to disavow the group when another anti-gay organization, the Maine Grassroots Coalition, embraced the visit of AFTAH leader Peter LaBarbera and anti-gay activist Brian Camenker of the anti-gay group MassResistance, who was also present at a press conference organized by the Grassroots Coalition.

At a press conference, the Maine Grassroots Coalition's leader, Paul Madore, who a local newscast said "brought" AFTAH and Camenker to Maine, repeated the claims that marriage equality would lead to a campaign to silence critics of gay families, made the claim that a "national campaign" to bring out-of-staters into Maine and defraud voters on election day. However, as the newscast also reports, the official Yes on 1 campaign, which seeks to rescind marriage rights for Maine's gay and lesbian families via a Proposition 8-like voter initiative, "disavows" Madore and AFTAH.

Local news course The Record offered its slant on AFTAH's visit to Maine. Among a number of other articles on the subject of marriage equality--all negative--The Record offered an Oct 28 item that called Madore and the others "leaders of the pro-family movement" and said that they had "expose[d] the hidden agenda of the same sex marriage movement." The article also took a not-too-subtle dig at the news media, saying, "The press conference was heavily attended by reporters who in addition to hearing the unvarnished truth about the homosexual rights movement, got a much-needed lecture on journalistic ethics." Added the article, "Throughout the press conference, Madore faulted the media for their blatantly obvious double standard in the battle over homosexual marriage."

Mainstream publications, however, reported that Stand for Marriage Maine was definite about distancing itself from AFTAH and MassResistance. An Oct. 29 article in the Bangor Daily News quoted Stand for Marriage Maine spokesperson Scott Fish as saying of the press conference, "We disavow anything said today as being in any way connected to the Stand for Marriage Maine campaign.... Whatever was said today was simply the words of the people speaking at the press conference."

The article also zeroed in on some of the more extravagant claims made by the anti-gay extremists, such as LaBarbera's claims that the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force operated from "one of the most radical sexual agendas ever conceived."

LaBarbera reiterated claims that young children would be indoctrinated in schools if gay family rights were not revoked. "Very clearly there is already a very aggressive agenda in the schools," the article quoted him as saying. "Homosexual so-called marriage only fuels that agenda. It institutionalizes it so that there can be no difference in how this aberrant form of 'marriage' is compared to the real thing."

The article reported on the response by the Task Force's national field director, Dan Hawes, who called LaBarbera's assertions "just ridiculous," including claims that the GLBT rights group promoted the eradication of laws against public sex and prostitution.

Even as the anti-equality side was making sure to put distance between itself and those at the press conference, the pro-marriage side of the debate was calling for a definitive refutation of what No on 1's Jesse Connolly called a "political stunt" filled with anti-gay rhetoric, including claims of sexual radicalism. Connolly told the paper, "If radical means loving the person you've been with for many years and trying to provide for that family and for your kids with that committed partner, then I see nothing wrong with that."

Gay bloggerJoe Jervis, who runs the online site JoeMyGod.com, has been embroiled in a cxyberspat with LaBArbera lately. JErvis seized the shunning of AFTAH by the Yes on 1 group, posting the comment, ""Congratulations, Petey--you're the new Fred Phelps! Even your fellow Christianists won't be seen in the same room with you." Jervis was referring to the Topeka, Kansas preacher who heads Westboro Baptist Church, and whose congregation travels around the U.S. picketing the funerals of fallen American troops and demonstrating at schools that produce the play "The Laramie Project," based on interviews with residents of Laramie, Wyoming, the town where openly gay murder victim Matthew Shepard lived.

Text at the church's Web site reads, "In 1991, WBC took her ministry to the streets, conducting 41,226 peaceful demonstrations (to date) opposing the fag lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth.... God is america's enemy: 5,200 dead soldiers; $11 trillion+ in national debt."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.