Southern Voice Article: "Falwell Speaks in Favor of Gay Civil Rights"

Conservative leader calls housing, employment for gays "basic rights"

Aug. 26, 2005

The Human Rights Campaign has formally thanked Rev. Jerry Falwell for apparently speaking out in favor of gay rights for the first time publicly.

Falwell, the high profile televangelist, founder of the Moral Majority and of the Liberty University, recently discussed potential Supreme Court nominees with President Bush before a pick was named.

On Aug. 5, during an appearance on MSNBC’s "The Situation with Tucker Carlson," Falwell raised eyebrowns when he said he was not troubled by reports that nominee John Roberts had done volunteer legal work for gay rights activists on the case Romer vs. Evans.

In that case, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the state of Colorado could not create laws with the sole intention of discriminating against gay men and lesbians. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas – the judges that President Bush has said best represent his preferred judicial philosophy – along with Chief Justice William Rehnquist, dissented from the majority opinion.

Falwell, who in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, blamed the terrorist attacks on "the pagans, the abortionists, and the feminists and the gays and lesbians," and who describes himself as "very conservative," told Carlson that if he were a lawyer, he too would argue for civil rights for gays.

"I may not agree with the lifestyle," Falwell said. "But that has nothing to do with the civil rights of that… part of our constituency.

"Judge Roberts would probably have been not a good very good lawyer if he had not been willing, when asked by his partners in the law firm to assist in guaranteeing the civil rights of employment and housing to any and all Americans."

When Carlson countered that conservatives, "are always arguing against ‘special rights’ for gays," Falwell said that equal access to housing and employment are basic rights, not special rights.

"Civil rights for all Americans, black, white, red, yellow, the rich, poor, young, old, gay, straight, et cetera, is not a liberal or conservative value," Falwell went on to say. "It’s an American value that I would think that we pretty much all agree on."

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said his group welcomed the apparent softening of Falwell’s position on at least some gay rights.

"Like most Americans, it seems Rev. Falwell has reached the conclusion that everyone deserves basic rights," said Solmonese. "I hope he also supports legislation that would deliver on these values."

Soulforce lobbying pays off?

Falwell was not available this week to discuss his views on gay issues. His office said that he was deluged with requests for comment on fellow televangelist Pat Robertson’s call for the assassination of the Venezuelan president.

Earlier this summer, Falwell spoke at an "ex-gay" conference organized by the Christian group Exodus International. During his sermon he spoke warmly about the efforts of the activist group Soulforce, which seeks to free gays from religious oppression and is based in Lynchburg, Va., near Falwell’s church. Soulforce has done extensive outreach to Falwell.

Falwell also spoke at length about a major heart operation he had had earlier that week.

Soulforce was founded by Mel White, a gay man who had worked closely with Falwell (even ghostwriting his autobiography) and his partner Gary Nixon.

White and Nixon founded Soulforce and moved into a rented house across the street from Falwell’s church in 2001, after they realized that Falwell was not going to change his views and accept gays without long-term persuasion.

"I think last month when he dealt with his heart condition, he got closer to his maker," Nixon said. "And I think he knows in his heart that what he was doing is wrong."

見2005 The Southern Voice