As Goes Iowa:
Mar 8, 2011 • 8:45 am 9 Comments
The Family Leader, Religious Politics and 2012
by Andy Kopsa
America’s culture wars are at full throttle: defunding Planned Parenthood, chipping away at a woman’s right to an abortion – and if possible taking away that right altogether, preventing or ending gay marriage (because it could lead to Sharia law), enacting Religious Freedom Restoration Acts to “restore religious liberty” that was never lost. State after state after state serves as a front on which the Christian Right and their willing Republican legislators wage these wars. Iowa is a perfect microcosm, an example of the powerful Christian Political Action Committees (PACs) leading the effort. Iowa’s powerful and successful The Family Leader is a model to which all others can be held.
The Iowa Family Policy Center (IFPC), which recently changed its name to The Family Leader*, is the most vocal and political anti-gay organization in Iowa. As a federally funded chapter of the Family Research Council (FRC), IFPC railed against gay marriage leading up to the 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision granting marriage equality for same sex couples. They started the “LUV Iowa” (Let Us Vote) Campaign to bring a Proposition 8-like ballot initiative to the state. They sent lobbyists to the state capital and held ‘pro-family’ rallies.
Then, in a momentum-building coup, IFPC president Chuck Hurley, a former Iowa legislator, and Bob Vender Plaats, 2008 Mike Huckabee Iowa campaign chair and three-time gubernatorial candidate, led a state-wide campaign to oust three Iowa Supreme Court Justices who voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. The campaign was financed by FRC Action, the National Organization for Marriage and the American Family Association. In the end, Iowa voted to remove the so-called “activist judges.” Chuck Hurley told the press that they “did God’s will.”
Since that victory, The Family Leader’s political power has grown and will by design continue to grow in the run-up to next year’s general election. The organization has positioned itself as the gatekeeper for the 2012 first-in-the-nation Republican caucus by hosting presidential speaking events throughout Iowa. These “educational” events bring presidential hopefuls and right wing luminaries such as tea party siren Michelle Bachman, and Rick Santorum, a well-known anti-gay (former) politician who posited the legalization of gay sex would lead to “man on dog” relationships, to speak in high school auditoriums and college union halls around the state. Even the comparatively more mainstream Ron Paul recently accepted The Family Leader’s invitation to speak. Newt Gingrich is jumping on board as well.
The Family Leader pushed the Iowa House to pass a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage last month, demonstrating their influence over public policy. The Family Leader was there throughout the process, lending its organizing ability, presumably Bob Vander Plaats left-over Huckabee Rolodex and an army of loyal followers.
The amendment, HJR6, was marked by passionate debate on and off the House floor. Hurley and The Family Leader sent out an email to alert the group’s followers of the bill’s public hearing:
We will hold a prayer meeting in Room 305….I urge you to join us. This will also allow you a better chance to get a seat for the 1 PM meeting. Several of us plan to bring a token of Christian love (like a small bag of cookies or other treats) to share with homosexual activists who we’ll be encountering Monday. It’s time we dispel lies about Christians, by tangibly showing love to people who struggle with homosexuality.
I have been following this group for well over a year now, first reporting on it’s federal funding in the Iowa Independent last spring, and prior to that on my personal blog. I have spoken with both Chuck Hurley and Bob Vander Plaats on several occasions – in person and on the phone. In my experience, I heard and felt nothing that resembled Christian love – love I have actually felt from Christians before. What I felt was the political drive for power, a love of the spotlight and a certitude that flows from only the most fearful of people.
In late October 2010, on the cusp of the mid-term election, I spoke to both Vander Plaats and Hurley on the steps of the Iowa Supreme Court after their anti-judge rally. The thing I found most interesting about my conversations with these gentlemen was their ability to speak softly and kindly to me about the sickness of homosexuality and its threat to our children, to our families and to society. They spoke of God’s law, natural law, of which homosexuality, they say, has no part. They affirmed fears – that their organization props up with consistent anti-gay rhetoric – that same-sex marriage would lead to rampant polygamy and fathers marrying daughters. Though they spoke with care, their disgust with homosexuals was palpable, their condescending attitude toward a non-believer evident. The way they and others have mainstreamed their radical Christian speech to pass as political discourse is utterly amazing. Their words – less about Christian Love – were more about Christian Power.
Implementing A Christian Worldview
I have also spoken and emailed with friends, family and colleagues close to the marriage equality debate in Iowa, my home state: friends in the Capitol in Des Moines, friends who blog and write, conservative and liberal, gay, straight, activists and those who just observe. I conducted an informal poll asking them what they thought the motivation behind the anti-gay marriage movement in Iowa was all about.
Answers varied, some said it was just fear of the “other” or the unknown. Some cut loose with justifiably exasperated rants about anti-gay bigotry. Others called into question the sexual orientation of gay-marriage opponents. However the most telling explanation, and one that I think is most closely represented by The Family Leader and other Christian political organizations throughout the country. A conservative Christian friend wrote to me about the imperative to implement through public policy a Christian worldview – he referred to it as “a faith component” – held by anti-gay activists, or as they like to be called “pro-traditional marriage” activists.
We all know how it works. Simply put, religious leaders have determined that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin and therefore gay marriage must be abolished. The necessity on the part of the Christian Right to make laws based on Biblical “truths” may come from “faith” but its expression in the light of day reveals an organized and well-funded strategy to dismantle the rights of fellow citizens. When leveraging what groups have determined to be Biblical “truths” as a roadmap for legislation, the opportunities for discrimination are endless.
Guided by such a Christian world view –with their interpretation of the Bible as policy guide — The Family Leader and Iowa House Republicans have already introduced a landslide of far-right legislation. There is the previously-mentioned HJR 6 anti-gay marriage amendment. A “religious conscience protection” act was introduced but quickly scrapped after a swift public backlash. It is feverishly being reworked to more closely resemble other states’ Religious Freedom Restoration Acts for re-release, possibly during this congressional session. There is a “personhood” bill that will be discussed in committee any day now, and the always repugnant “fetal pain” bill. These bills attempt to make abortion illegal based on the personal religious belief of some that life begins at conception and on bad science claiming to prove that a fetus feels pain. Similar bills are being introduced in states all over the U.S., in South Dakota, Texas, New Hampshire, Wyoming to name only a few.
Next week, The Family Leader will be taking a break from the presidential speaking tour to get back to its roots. In partnership with the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators, they will rally for an anti-gay marriage amendment to be placed on the Iowa ballot. They will also be joined by Judge Roy Moore who masterfully crafted his removal from the Alabama Supreme Court for “willfully and publicly” ignoring an order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state’s judicial building.
The Family Leader is just one organization. There are scores more like them taking the same steps, using the same religious-political platform to launch horrifying legislation across the country. What makes The Family Leader different is their stage – the national one – and the roll they are already playing in shaping the Republican presidential field. They likely believe they are God’s political vetters on Earth and I am sure the feeling of power that comes along with that is intoxicating.
*The group denies any ties with the anti-gay Mormon organization sharing the same name “The Family Leader” network.
**Perkins slipped away as I was speaking with Mr. Hurley so I was unable to get a chance to talk with him.
Andy Kopsa is a freelance writer based in New York City. She has written for The Washington Independent and AlterNet. As a native Iowan and former Iowa newspaper editor, Andy writes frequently for the Iowa Independent.