Tea Party Bullies on Homosexuality: “No Punishment Too Severe?”

While much of the nation has been in a state of shock and sadness over the recent death of 18 year old Tyler Clementi, key tea party leaders ramped up their bullying rhetoric against gays and lesbians. That’s right, while the media rushed to report on school bullying that has in some cases been so vicious that it leads its victims to suicide, two of the most visible conservative leaders ramped up their anti-gay rhetoric, adding to the bullying.

First, Jim DeMint (R-SC), whose fundraising efforts are benefiting tea party candidates across the country, returned to an issue many thought settled decades ago, saying gays and lesbians (and unmarried sexually active women) should not be permitted to teach in public schools. Speaking at a “Greater Freedom Rally,” DeMint reportedly said that people encouraged him in his position limiting freedom for gays and lesbians, saying he “shouldn’t back down. [The people who agree with him] don’t want government purging their rights and their freedom to religion.”

As I reported here months ago, DeMint has been using a Christian Reconstructionist group’s mailing list for fundraising, indicating that, at least in part, he thinks he and they are compatible.

Reconstructionist opponents love to trot out quotes from founder Rushdoony that advocate the biblical penalty of stoning as punishment for homosexuality, which Rushdoony did. But I have argued that this rather sensationalist approach to examining the place of Reconstructionism in  contemporary politics undermines efforts to see real influence. DeMint doesn’t advocate stoning, even though he aligns himself with Reconstructionists. He does advocate undoing decades of efforts to secure basic civil rights for gays and lesbians (and apparently for unmarried women as well). He does, it seems, support a more modern form of punishment.

Not to be outdone, David Barton (on his radio program dedicated to “winning the culture war” on Tuesday) only half-facetiously suggested regulating homosexuality on the basis that we already regulate unhealthy things like smoking and trans fats. Sure, the headline is meant to grab attention, but he goes on to make the argument and then cruelly suggests that high rates of suicide among homosexuals is evidence of how unhealthy it is to be one. “Homosexual/bi-sexual individuals are seven times to contemplate or commit suicide,” he said, and then in a taunting tone, added “Oooh, that doesn’t sound very healthy.” All without a shred of empathy or recognition that the suicides are a result of how people like him treat gays and lesbians.

I’ve written about the Reconstructionist influence on Barton’s views on race and slavery and his ties to the authoritarian Bill Gothard. Barton explains the “threat” he sees in homosexuality, by reading what he said was an 1814 legal work:

“If we reflect on the dreadful consequences of sodomy to a state and the extent to which this abominable vice can be secretly carried on and spread with which this can be spread we cannot, on the basis of sound public policy consider any punishment as too severe…”

Barton is not advocating stoning either, but using an old document to endorse the idea that no punishment is too severe; without actually proposing a punishment, he leaves his listeners to conclude that whatever “punishment” they have in mind would be warranted.

These are not the views of an obscure theologian, but are the views of influential players in contemporary politics. Barton has been central to the rise of Glenn Beck’s tea party organization, the 9-12 Project and is a colleague of Florida House Candidate Dan Webster at Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles.

DeMint’s money has gone to (among others) Sharron Angle of Nevada, Ken Buck of Colorado, Marco Rubio of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Joe Miller of Alaska, and Christine O’Donnell of Delaware.

You can bet that no matter how the numbers finally shake out in next month’s election, Barton and DeMint, and their views on “Judeo-Christian heritage” and “biblical law,” will continue to have allies in high places.