Conservatives Clash Over Gay Outreach

By Daniel Treiman

Published June 06, 2003, issue of June 06, 2003.
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A prominent Jewish conservative is accusing leading social conservatives of “intolerance” after they criticized the chairman of the Republican National Committee for meeting with a gay advocacy group.

David Horowitz, a former radical leftist turned right-wing provocateur, wrote an article blasting the conservative activists, citing by name leading lights of the religious right, including 2000 Republican presidential aspirant Gary Bauer and Free Congress Foundation Chairman Paul Weyrich.

Horowitz’s May 20 article on his Web site,, followed a meeting between RNC Chairman Marc Racicot and 11 Christian conservative leaders, at which the activists expressed their outrage at Racicot’s March sit-down with the board of Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay rights group. The activists warned Racicot that outreach to gay groups could drive socially conservative voters away from the Republican Party.

Horowitz’s missive drew a quick and angry response from one of the 11 social conservatives. Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute of Concerned Women for America, posted an article on his group’s Web site the next day titled “Mr. Horowitz Owes Christians an Apology.” Horowitz, in turn, replied in a second article posted May 27 on his site, “To accuse a Jew of attacking Christians is a serious matter,” which prompted Knight to cry foul in a second article of his own: “Given that Mr. Horowitz knows me and knows that I am not anti-Semitic, his hinting at it is out of bounds.”

The exchange between Horowitz and Knight highlights the difficulty Republican leaders face in juggling the competing demands of two constituencies: Many religious conservatives are implacably opposed to outreach to gay groups, accusing them of trying to advance a sinister “homosexual agenda.” Some moderates and others, however, want the Republican Party to adopt a friendlier stance toward gays.

“Some conservatives don’t quite get the distinction between politics and religion,” Horowitz told the Forward. He said that he does not object to “Christians who think that homosexuality is a sin. But in the public sphere I think it’s very important that we all live side by side.”

He added that the objections to Racicot’s meeting with Human Rights Campaign gave conservatives “a negative image.”

“When you make a demand that the chairman of the RNC not meet with gays, that’s pretty intolerant, even if they’re gays that you disagree with on everything,” he said.

Horowitz, the founder of a small constellation of conservative organizations in Los Angeles, is best known for his sweeping attacks on liberals and the left. In a recent fundraising mailing, Horowitz blasted the “Hate America Left,” which he writes “is entrenched in our campuses, in Hollywood, our media, and in our Congress,” listing examples ranging from fringe Marxist sects to Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle.

But some Christian conservatives have also been on the receiving end of his barbs. Horowitz often proudly recounts the time he called Reverend Jerry Falwell “a conservative jackass” after the former Moral Majority leader attacked Tinky Winky, the purple character from the Teletubbies television series who some social conservatives believe promotes homosexuality.

Two years ago, however, Horowitz rushed to the defense of Weyrich, who he felt was unfairly being labeled an antisemite after writing that Jews crucified Jesus. Horowitz went so far as to dismiss from his Web site a Jewish conservative freelancer, Evan Gahr, who was leading the charge against Weyrich.

Horowitz said that he felt that “in practice” conservatives are tolerant and that the response to his most recent articles has been “collegial and friendly and healthy.”

But Knight, whose organization, Concerned Women for America, boasts half a million members and led the chorus of criticism of Racicot’s meeting, is still smarting over the tone of Horowitz’s attacks. “I don’t like being called a bigot and he did that in so many words, and I wish he would apologize,” Knight told the Forward.

“The social conservatives are upholding what the party has always stood for, while folks like David are trying to wrench it off the track and turn it to a radical new direction,” he said.

Calling the gay rights movement “the greatest threat to freedom this country faces domestically,” Knight also faulted the Bush administration and Republican leaders for not vigorously defending state anti-sodomy laws now being challenged before the Supreme Court, and for not strongly backing Republican Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who faced a firestorm of criticism when he told the Associated Press: “If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery.”

Gay rights supporters, however, have faulted Republican leaders for exactly the opposite reason: failing to speak out against Santorum. Patrick Guerriero, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay Republican organization that tends to describe the party in relatively favorable terms, said in a May 12 statement that his group was “disappointed that the White House and other GOP leaders chose to defend Rick Santorum the man without distancing themselves from his damaging remarks.”

For his part, Weyrich, despite being on the receiving end of Horowitz’s broadside, tried to play the role of peacemaker in a statement issued to the Forward, praising Horowitz and Knight as “both very good conservatives.”

“Unfortunately, the issue of the RNC meeting has created a stir within conservative circles. The fact is there is more that unites these two conservatives than divides them,” Weyrich stated. “As a practitioner of coalition politics, I realize there will be times like these. I wish both men will work to keep this one disagreement from getting overly personal or divisive, saving their fight for where it is needed most: confronting the liberals.”

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