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They can't tear their eyes away; the far right is obsessed with gay sex. By making it seem dirty and shameful, they raise millions to defeat laws protecting gay men and lesbians.

Sex sells. And in the current heated political environment, conservative Christians peddle the nitty-gritty of gay sex in the same way that Tolstoy wrote a book: with ponderous detail and pure fiction. Religious-right groups are fascinated with gay sex: They study it or make up studies about it, circulating countless Web pages, white papers, and "fact" sheets filled with obsessive sexual detail. This has become especially true during the past year, as evangelicals have fought to pass a host of antigay laws in various states, banning same-sex marriage and barring gays and lesbians from adopting and often even fostering children.

"It should come as no surprise that [sex] sells as much to an evangelical Christian audience as to any other audience," says Andrew Seligsohn, a political science professor at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y. "Sex engages people. In politics, as in entertainment, you have to keep them coming back for more. Interest groups need their constituents to keep reading their materials and paying the bills--titillating, forbidden material is useful to that end."

A recent Advocate analysis of conservative Christian Web sites reveals a telling tactic: the painting of gay sex not only as forbidden sin but as acts so heinous and perverted that only the most depraved would participate. One site describes photos with titillating details: "men's naked bottoms being spanked over the knee of a leatherman"; "two men bound together with rope." Adjectives like "dangerous," "unrighteous," and "perverted" are employed to demonize participants, and parallels to pedophilia and incest are common.

"America's children are the ultimate casualties," reads an article at LifeWay, an online "Christian resource" center operated by the Southern Baptist Convention. "Innocent little boys and girls are having their childhood ripped from them."

Concerned Women for America, a Washington, D.C.-based "biblical values" group, is particularly fixated. On the group's Web site keyword searches for "homosexual" and "gay" garner thousands of hits, while the more explicit "sodomy" yields hundreds of results, and even the colorful "fisting" produces more than 20 entries.

Lesbian sex has a somewhat lower profile--much of the anti-lesbian rhetoric instead treats lesbians as emotionally fractured or abused victims. "Religious-right leaders continue to focus primarily on gay male sex, as a way of invoking the stereotype of gay men as sexual predators," says Seligsohn. "Because lesbian sexuality has been represented as an element of heterosexual male fantasy, it does not have the capacity to inspire the sort of fear and loathing that is at the heart of religious-right appeals to gay sexuality."

Most hypocritically, straight people who enjoy anal sex--who studies suggest number more than the entire gay population--get little attention from Christian groups.

While some religious leaders like the Reverend Jerry Falwell have made efforts to appear more tolerant with messages such as "hate the sin, love the sinner" by offering lessons on how to tactfully try to "convert" a gay or lesbian person, many conservative sites continue to present gay sex as an evil act that threatens the world as we know it.

The religious right has grown bolder in presenting its message, some say, since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the aftermath of which has revealed an exploitable vulnerability in the national consciousness: fear. Alarmists with moral agendas simply conflate the perceived threats--as if to say, Fear gay sex as you fear an enemy.

The Traditional Values Coalition, another conservative lobbying group, spends considerable effort comparing gay sex to acts of violence against children as well as using fear of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases as leverage in the culture wars. "Special reports" and "counseling resources" relate graphic details of anal fissures, anal cancer, and AIDS complications to deem gay sex dirty or immoral and STDs God's punishment.

Scrutinizing the footnotes that make many of the articles in conservative Christian media appear scholarly, one finds references to other fundamentalist sources or, in some cases, discredited research that's three or more decades old. "Activists on the religious right have no respect for truth," says Roger Lancaster, professor of anthropology and director of cultural studies at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and author of The Trouble With Nature: Sex in Science and Popular Culture. "They make things up. They crank out 'studies' that have no basis in reality. They cite facts that aren't in the least bit factual. I don't think I give away any secrets when I say that there's a deep pathology at work among the activists on the homophobic right."

The links among religion, politics, and intolerance of homosexuality are nearly impossible to sever. While the powerful church of ancient Greece seemed tolerant of same-sex relations, the Christian doctrine that prevailed--that of the apostle Paul--is explicitly opposed to sex outside of heterosexual marriage. Indeed, Paul urged people to remain celibate even if straight: Only those too weak to stay celibate should cave in and get married.

Today, political operatives use any and all tools available, including fueling the Christian fascination with gay sex and sexual taboos, to craft an appearance of tacit agreement among the masses. Thus a fair-minded churchgoer might be afraid to speak up and defend friends, relatives, and neighbors who participate in gay sex. The threat of ostracism makes silence a powerful weapon in the war over moral values.

"Can America stomach this strategy? The public wouldn't have stood for it in the 1990s," Lancaster says. Since 9/11, "'protection' is the big, overarching theme of the Daddy State [that] protects America from terrorists. Protect the family from gays, lesbians, and feminists. Protect the innocent--the unborn, the brain-dead--from abortion- and euthanasia-rights advocates. It's as close to fascism as anything a ruling party has ever embraced in the United States."

Griffith is a regional bureau chief for the Orlando [Fla.] Sentinel.
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Title Annotation:FAR RIGHT
Author:Griffith, Kelly
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 16, 2005
Words:958
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