Waymon Hudson

Westboro Church to "debate" Florida's Amendment 2

Filed By Waymon Hudson | October 16, 2008 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Amendment 2, Florida, Janet Folger, Marriage Protection Amendment, Westboro Baptist Church

It looks like the circus is coming to town here in Florida!

news-graphics-2007-_447437a.jpgThe Westboro Baptist Church, best known for their "God Hates Fags" and Military Funeral protests, is coming to "debate" Florida's Amendment 2, the so-called "Marriage Protection" Amendment, at a forum next week at Florida International University. They were invited by the Stonewall Legal Alliance, a gay group at the FIU College of Law, after the group was unable to get members of the state coalition supporting the amendment to attend.

And it looks like both sides of the amendment fight have some reservations and concerns about injecting the hyper-bigotry of Westboro into the debate...

Westboro is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League monitors its actions. David Barkey, a lawyer for the southern region of ADL, which opposes the amendment, said had this to say about Westboro being involved in the debate:

If you allow such a group and give them a platform, you give them legitimacy. This group should have no legitimacy.

On the other side of the Amendment fight, Naugle-loving Fundie Janet Folger of Faith2Action is miffed as well:

That's the most heinous thing I've ever heard. They go to the most radical group. It's a deliberate attempt to make the pro-marriage people appear to be something they're not.

That seems to be the idea behind the invitation. Jose Gabilondo, an associate law professor at FIU who will to argue against the amendment (while two daughters of Westboro Pastor Fred Phelps will speak for it), said he doesn't see the difference in the message of Westboro and that of more "mainstream" groups that support the amendment:

I think it's a mistake to distinguish between respectable homophobia and unacceptable homophobia.

What does Westboro have to say about all of this? They say they are speaking for God, not spreading hate. Shirley Phelps-Roper (she's the one in the picture above holding the "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" sign), who will speak alongside her sister Margie Phelps, said:

You can't change God. Don't try to make us ashamed of his word. If you want to call God hateful, you do that at your own peril.

I must say I am a bit unsettled about inviting Westboro into a scholarly setting. It does give them and their viewpoint credence. Plus, we all know they travel in packs, so I'm sure they will have their picketers and disgusting signs out in full force at the event.

I know it shows how irrational the backers of this amendment are, but I am concerned that the already heightened atmosphere of intolerance created by the amendment in Florida may just boil over when you add in the inflammatory rhetoric and general craziness of Westboro. The last thing we need in Florida is to inject a group that calls for the death of gay people in the mix.

The event is scheduled for October 25th, 9:30 am, at Florida International University Law School Auditorium, at Rafael Diaz-Balart Hall on the University Park campus, 11200 SW Eighth St., west of Miami.

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

But are they any less intolerant than the average homophobe?

I personally think they're just more honest and less media savvy. I'm not saying they should be invited, but it seems like the respectable homophobes' reasoning doesn't hold water.

Melanie Davis | October 17, 2008 2:44 AM

Hell yes, they should be invited! If the nice homophobes didn't want to fill the vacancy, they have only themselves to blame when their twisted sisters from Westboro start shouting out the family secrets.

After decades of painting those in the GLBT community as sick, mentally deranged, criminal, and dangerous, the religious wrong should have their hypocrisy exposed. I hope everyone in Florida watches.

"Westboro Baptist Church" and "debate" are not two terms I'd put together.

Those Phelps girls are delightfully insane. It is really killing me to have to miss this event but we will be on vacation in Buenos Aires.
That reminds me. I still have not received my absentee ballot. I did get confirmation that the request was received, but that is all. Oh Florida.

I just received my ballot in the mail. Hopefully yours is on the way as well!

Jose Gabilondo | October 17, 2008 6:42 PM

Dear Waymon and others,

I'm the faculty advisor to the Stonewall group at the FIU College of Law. I wanted to explain our rationale for inviting Westboro, which we did only after not being to attract local supporters of Amendment 2. Alex Blaze's comment gets to the heart of it. Part of why the religious Right has become incredibly influential during the past 2o years is that they have learned how to be taken seriously, even by some liberals and progressives. So the supporters of Amendment 2 emphasize that they are "pro marriage" not "anti-gay," but even a dog knows the difference between being stepped on and kicked. And, in this case as in all the state mini-DOMA, it is anti-gay animus that animates these projects.

The official opponents of Amendment 2 decided to frame their strategy in terms of the Amendment's impact on straight unmarried voters, because that was what worked in the only state in which -- to date -- laws like this have been defeated, Arizona. Does that make strategic sense? Maybe, although pursuing this kind of strategy works as a form of closet. In other words, if straight voters aren't interested in helping us get basic civil rights, then maybe they'll be interested in getting even more special rights for themselves.

Fine as far as it goes, but it does not do much for addressing the legitimate interests of the GLBTQ community in being recognized, understood, and treated fairly. Besides, if you look at gay-straight history, we haven't gotten what little we do have by appeasing straight majorities. Quite the contrary, something which may explain the remarkable sustained failure of the Human Rights Campaign to actually achieve anything with its substantial resources.

As I said in the Sun Sentinel, it's a mistake to "tolerate" respectable homophobes, whether they're pillars of society, e.g., on the Supreme Court, or not. The most important thing, I think, that a gay person does in this society (or in any straight society) is to decide whether he's going to try to see himself through his own eyes or whether he's going to adopt the toxic perspective of straight society. Rejecting that perspective means getting butch with homophobia, wherever it is.

Respectful homophobes would like you to forget what is really behind their air brushed prose, but you're better off outing them.

I hope that you and others will consider coming to the debate. We could use the support.


Jose Gabilondo

I think inviting Westboro is a brilliant move, but with all due respect, Senator Gabilondo, you haven't answered the question of why you invited them. But, never mind. I know the answer and I hope all goes as you intend. Let'em rage, but keep our side quiet, orderly and somewhat shocked. That'll get the point across. I'll be following this on my laptop by the pool on the roof of the Hotel Axel in Buenos Aires.


Thanks for your comment and for the work you are doing here in Florida!

I completely understand your point and agree with you. I do think there is something to be said, however, to the concerns about inviting a group designated a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center to a scholarly setting. It does lend legitimacy to their cause.

That being said, I have no doubt that their appearance might have the desired effect of showing the amendment supporters for what they are (although be warned, the Phelps daughters, while quite crazy, are smart and strong debaters).

I know I will be there (as will my partner who is sitting on a later panel at the same event) to see the debate and cheer you on.

Thanks again!

My Dear Friend Waymon,

The only difference between Janet L. Folger at Faith2Action, a proponent of Amendment 2, and the two Phelps sisters invited to attend the debate? LIPSTICK!!!

Remove the veneer of a coifed hairdo, the haute couture and the refined and well rehearsed false argument that Amendment 2 is only about protecting the sanctity of marriage from the likes of Janet Folger & those of her ilk, what do you have? Shirley & Margie Phelps!!!

The offer to participate was made by the debate organizers to numerous, more ‘mainstream’ of the Amendment 2 Supporters but alas, they declined.

So now we get to see the debate framed in its proper context: Hate & Homophobia at the expense of the thousands of Senior citizens who’ll be hurt by Amendment 2 vs. sound legal arguments defending the equality of all citizens of the State of Florida. Sounds like a great debate! I’ll be there!

David L. Wylie

P.S. Do you think Naugle, Janet & Dobson hate us any less than the Phelps Sisters????