Preacher Caught With a Male Escort. Wow….
By: Frank Rich
OF all wars, only culture wars offer the hope of sheer, unadulterated hilarity. Sex and hypocrisy were staples of farce long before America became a nation, and they never go out of style. Just listen to the roaring audience at the new hit Broadway revival of the perennial “La Cage aux Folles,” where a family-values politician gets his comeuppance in drag. Or check out the real-life closet case of George Rekers, who has been fodder for late-night television comics all month.
Rekers is in a class by himself even in the era of Larry Craig and Ted Haggard. A Baptist minister and clinical psychologist with a bent for “curing” homosexuality, the married, 61-year-old Rekers was caught by Miami New Times last month in the company of a 20-year-old male escort at Miami International Airport. The couple was returning from a 10-day trip to London and Madrid. New Times, which published its exposé in early May, got an explanation from Rekers: “I had surgery, and I can’t lift luggage. That’s why I hired him.”
Alas, a photo showed Rekers, rather than his companion, handling the baggage cart. The paper also reported that Rekers had recruited the young man from Rentboy.com, a Web site whose graphic sexual content requires visitors to vouch for their age. Rentboy.com — really, who could make this stuff up?
Much like the former Senator Craig, Rekers claims it was all an innocent mix-up. His only mistake, he told the magazine Christianity Today, was to hire a “travel assistant” without proper vetting. Their travels were not in vain. The good minister expressed gratitude that his rent boy “did let me share the gospel of Jesus Christ with him with many Scriptures in three extended conversations.”
This is a family newspaper, so you must supply your own jokes here.
But once we stop laughing, we must remember that culture wars are called wars for a reason. For all the farcical shenanigans they can generate, they do inflict real casualties — both at the micro level, on the lives of ordinary people, and at the national level, where, as we’re seeing right now, a Supreme Court nominee’s entire record can be reduced to a poisonous and distorted debate over her stand on the single culture-war issue of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Rekers is no bit player in these wars. Though he’s not a household name, he should be. He’s the Zelig of homophobia, having played a significant role in many of the ugliest assaults on gay people and their civil rights over the last three decades. His public career dates back to his authorship of a theoretically scholarly 1982 tome titled “Growing Up Straight: What Families Should Know About Homosexuality.” (I say theoretically because many of the footnotes cite his own previous writings.) And what did Rekers think that families should know? By Chapter 2, he is citing the cautionary tale of how one teacher’s “secret homosexual lifestyle most likely led to his murder.”
Rekers soon went on to become a co-founder with James Dobson of the Family Research Council, a major, if not the major, activist organization of the religious right as well as a power broker in the Republican Party. When the Miami scandal broke, the council’s current president, Tony Perkins, quickly tried to distance himself, claiming that he had to review “historical records” to verify who Rekers was and that his organization had “no contact” with him or “knowledge of his activities” for over a decade.
That historical record is hardly as obscure as Perkins maintained. Rachel Maddow of MSNBC found that only weeks before Rekers’s excellent European adventure, his name appeared on the masthead of an official-looking letter sent to some 14,000 school superintendents nationwide informing them that homosexuality is a choice that can be stamped out by therapy. The letter was from the “American College of Pediatricians” — a misnomer for what is actually a political organization peddling homophobic junk-science. Rekers was also on the board of another notorious peddler of gay “cures” — the National Association for Research and Therapy on Homosexuality, or Narth — until he resigned last week. Such groups have done nothing to stop homosexuality but plenty to help promote punitive “treatment” and suicidal depression among untold numbers of gay youths.
No less destructive has been Rekers’s role in maintaining the draconian Florida law prohibiting adoptions by gay couples and individuals, a relic of the Anita Bryant era. When the law was challenged in court two years ago, the state Attorney General Bill McCollum personally intervened to enlist Rekers as an expert witness to uphold it. Rekers charged $120,000 for his services — a taxpayers’ expenditure now becoming an issue in the Florida gubernatorial race, where McCollum is a Republican candidate to succeed Charlie Crist. A Miami judge ruled Florida’s law unconstitutional, and even now McCollum is appealing that decision.
Rekers was also an expert witness in a similar court case in Arkansas in 2004. That anti-gay-adoption law was also ruled unconstitutional. (His bill there was $200,000, but he settled for $60,000.) In 1998 Rekers was hired as an expert witness by the Boy Scouts to uphold its gay ban in a case before the District of Columbia Human Rights Commission. And then there’s Rekers’s cameo in the current Proposition 8 trial in California: one of his homophobic screeds can be found in the bibliography for the “expert report” by David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values, the star witness for the anti-same-sex-marriage forces.
Thanks to Rekers’s clownish public exposure, we now know that his professional judgments are windows into his cracked psyche, not gay people’s. But there is nothing funny about the destruction his writings and public activities have sown. His fringe views have not remained on the fringe. His excursions into public policy have had real and damaging consequences on a large swath of Americans.
The crusade he represents is, thankfully, on its last legs. American attitudes about homosexuality continue to change very fast. In the past month, as square a cultural venue as Archie comic books has announced the addition of a gay character, the country singer Chely Wright has come out as a lesbian, and Laura Bush has told Larry King that she endorses the “same” rights for all committed couples and believes same-sex marriage “will come.” All of this news has been greeted by most Americans with shrugs, as it should be.
But the rear-guard remnants of the Rekers crowd are not going down without a fight, and their focus on Elena Kagan has been most revealing. There are many grounds to debate Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court, wherever you are on the political spectrum. There are many questions about her views and record that remain unanswered. But from the get-go the preponderance of the debate on the right has been about her handling of military recruitment as dean at Harvard Law School. Here her history is unambiguous.
Despite her critics’ cries, Kagan never banned military recruitment of law students and never denigrated the military in word or deed. She followed Harvard’s existing (and unexceptional) antidiscrimination policy while a court battle played out over a Congressional act denying federal funds to universities barring military recruiters. She was so cautious — too cautious, I’d argue — that she did not join the majority of her own faculty in urging Harvard to sue the government over the funding law, limiting her action instead to the signing of an amicus brief.
She did declare that “don’t ask, don’t tell” was “a moral injustice of the first order.” Given that a Washington Post-ABC News poll in February showed that 75 percent of Americans want that policy rescinded — as do the president, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of defense — this is hardly a view out of the American mainstream. Yet if you went to the Web site of the organization Rekers co-founded, the Family Research Council, and clicked on “Tony Perkins’ Washington Update” last week, you’d have found a head shot of Kagan with the legend “Deep Ties With the Gay Agenda.” What those “deep ties” are is never stated. Indeed, Kagan said only last year that “there is no federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage.”
The Family Research Council’s line has been embraced by the non-fringe right, including some Republicans in the Senate. In mid-April, a full month before Kagan’s nomination was even announced, The Wall Street Journal preemptively hyped this plan of attack with a conspicuously placed news article headlined “Kagan Foes Cite Gay-Rights Stand.” The only foes cited were religious right organizations.
The real game became clear when that same week a former Bush aide and Republican Senate staffer published unsubstantiated rumors about Kagan’s private life in a blog at CBSNews.com. (It was taken down after White House denials.) Those rumors have chased all unmarried Supreme Court justices or would-be justices loathed by the right, whether Republicans like David Souter and Harriet Miers or the previous Obama choice, Sonia Sotomayor.
By late last week, double-entendre wisecracks about Kagan’s softball prowess were all the rage on Fox News and MSNBC. These dying gasps of our culture wars, like Rekers’s farcical pratfall, might be funnier if millions of gay Americans and their families were not still denied their full civil rights.