Here are a few of the Texans who are bringing Christian Fundamentalism into state politics
Every soul who testified at the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee hearing on May 19 on the topic of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and civil unions had more to say than they could cram into the three minutes made available to each speaker. There were so many people who wanted to testify that the hearing was held in a packed Senate Chamber instead of a committee room. For upwards of 10 hours, they took their turns, the on-deck speaker sitting beside the one who was already testifying.
For those who supported gay marriage and gay rights in general, the proposed amendment was cast as a hideous step toward the Dark Ages, a crippling legal twist on the civil definition of marriage. What’s worse, it codified discrimination in the state constitution, a document that should be used to guarantee civil rights. It would deny some human beings the freedom to be fully human.
But for the fundamentalist Christians who spoke and formed the activist core of support for the amendment, the debate was much bigger than even all of that: The argument was literally about heaven and hell. (In this issue of the Observer, we focus on the heaven-and-hell crowd. In our next issue, we will feature a story on whom the amendment could hurt and how, and the campaign to defeat it at the polls in November.)
We decided to give some of the more vociferous amendment proponents more time to voice their ideas by talking to them in person. Many declined our invitation. Paranoia was a constant with nearly everyone with whom we spoke. For some, it appears the media are to be counted among those who persecute Christians and weaken the institution of marriage. One chose not to go on the record, but still talked at length on the phone. In furtive, fevered tones, he described the argument between the two camps as a real war for the soul of our society, a hot conflict that was already dangerous and violent. Even though he was afraid of physical attacks on his family, he was still chomping at the bit to “pick up arms” to advance the cause.
Many of the people with whom we did speak used identical words to describe their position and cited similar statistics indicating an anti-gay echo chamber. Mary Ann Markarian rattled off numbers that come from widely discredited reports by Paul Cameron. The chairman of a right-wing outfit called the Family Research Institute, Cameron was dropped from membership in the American Psychological Association in 1983 for lack of cooperation with the Committee on Scientific and Professional Ethics and Conduct. Several identified Kelly Shackleford as a leader. Shackleford, a former GOP delegate, is president of a radical right think-tank called the Free Market Foundation. He also works as a lawyer with the Liberty Legal Institute, where he helps to gin out prayer-in-school and anti-evolution lawsuits.
Those who graciously invited us into their homes, churches, and neighborhoods to make their case, spoke cautiously, and emphasized a distinction that some would dispute: While they hated the “sin of homosexuality” in all its forms, they also loved “the sinners.”
As a kid, Montie Watkins chopped cotton and rode in the rodeo, but she evolved into a political player who carries herself with the grace of Kitty Wells. Mary Ann Markarian is a polished professional Christian performer and minister who has sung and preached in big arenas all over the world with Benny Hinn and other major televangelists. Alan Ward is a “P.K.”—a preacher’s kid—who has managed to avoid the not uncommon curse that almost guarantees that “preacher’s kids” are liable to run with the rowdiest bunch at every local high school (at least in my part of West Texas). And Noe Reyes is a Christian lawyer and choir director who speaks precisely in the clean, polished prose that he was taught at Baylor Law.
These people are all Texans. They are our neighbors. They represent millions of the people who live just up the street and around the block. And here’s what they had to say.
Additional writing and reporting by Jake Bernstein.
MARY ANN MARKARIAN
The Bible is very clear—homosexuality is an abomination, and I do think homosexual marriage should be illegal. This is not just my opinion. This is God’s opinion.
I’m an ordained minister for M.A.P. Ministries, Inc., and my message is the message of love—the love of God and how much he cares about us. I’m going to encourage people to vote appropriately [for the amendment], but not because I dislike homosexuals. I know a lot of homosexual people who are wonderful people, who are very kind and gracious, who are my friends.
Texas Observer: What about the scientific studies of animals that suggest that homosexuality might be caused by nature or genetics?
MM: But sin is sin. We’re not animals. We’re people, and I do not believe that you’re born homosexual. They only have two signs over at the hospital: blue ones for the boys and pink ones for the girls. God knows when we’re born what we’re supposed to be.
The proof is in the pudding. Ninety-two percent of all gay males engage in rimming, the process of licking the rim of the anus and ingesting various amounts of fecal matter. Forty-seven percent of all males engage in fisting, the act of placing their fist in their partner’s rectum for sexual pleasure. Twenty-nine percent of all homosexual males engage in golden showers—the practice of lying on the floor, typically nude, and allowing their partner to urinate on them. This is abnormal. These are things I’ve never read in the newspaper. This isn’t something you hear about on CNN. But this is something that is taking place.
Now I know this is not real pleasant, but the truth needs to come out. When we say the word “gay,” we’re really just hiding because we’re really not understanding what that word really entails—what it means, what people are doing, and why this can hurt society as a whole. It’s never been an accepted lifestyle. If we allow this to become accepted, then the numbers will grow astronomically. Now they want to take it into the classroom, to teach our children that this is okay. Our society is two to three percent gay, but if you teach children that homosexuality is okay, then we’re going to have a lot of problems.
The median age of homosexual men dying with AIDS is thirty-nine years old; that’s wrong, not natural. The median age of all other homosexual men dying from other causes is forty-two. Do you consider forty-two young? I consider it extremely young since I’m one year away from it. The median age of death for lesbians is forty-five years old—of lesbians. That compares to seventy-five years old for heterosexual men and seventy-nine for heterosexual women. Only one percent of homosexuals die of old age; only three percent ever live to age fifty-five. Think about it, and then tell me that God doesn’t have some problem with this whole thing—that God isn’t speaking. It’s unnecessary to put my name in the paper—you can just say that “God said,” and here’s the statistics.
I testified for myself as an individual at the hearing, but I am a member of a myriad of groups including the Mordecai Mission Initiative, the Eagle Forum, and the Daughters of Liberty who support the marriage plank of the Republican Party. I founded the Gulf Coast Eagle Forum because I felt like I could get more knowledge if I did that; I had a lot of respect for Phyllis Schafly, a very smart lady.
Years ago, I voted for Jimmy Carter, but I was very disappointed. I was very naive to believe that a Christian like Jimmy Carter would have the same beliefs that I do; in fact, if you get ten Christians in here, you may get ten different beliefs. But after Carter, I started looking for groups and a political party that more closely resembled what I personally felt.
I joined the Republican Party in the early eighties, during the days of Nancy Palm [sometimes called Nancy “Napalm” Palm], who basically started the Republican Party in Texas—got it going and into action. Dolph Briscoe, a conservative Democrat governor, told Nancy, “You’ll never get anyone elected governor in Texas who’s not a Democrat,” and that was a mistake—it was like saying sic ’em to a dog. (Laughs.) My mom is still a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, let me tell you. Back then, everything was so tied up in that one Democrat Party, and if you disagreed… well, I disagreed.
And I still disagree. I disagree with a lot of stuff. I did not agree when Harvey Milk, the homosexual Town Supervisor in San Francisco, was shot by someone who was supposedly a conservative. I totally disagreed with that. That is NOT the way to disagree. You have to be involved in a Godly manner—disagree, but disagree gently. You don’t hurt people. I have absolutely nothing against the homosexuals; what I am against is their way of life. It’s not the person, it’s the sin.
I don’t believe in killing, stealing, or adultery either, and to me all of those things are in the same category [with homosexuality]. We have laws against theft, murder, even against lying, so it doesn’t make me a bad person because I disagree [with the gay rights crowd] on this homosexuality issue, too.
I was raised in the church, but I have not always been a Christian. Until Christ got ahold of my life, I was a mess. My daddy is a farmer, and I started out chopping cotton, driving a tractor, and riding in the rodeo in Central Texas. I did not finish school, but scored high enough on my GED that Baylor accepted me as a student. I had three children very early—my first child when I was sixteen—and a couple of divorces, but then I met Ned, and we’ve been married for thirty-six years. I worked for fifty years in the real estate business before I retired. As a single woman, I know how hard life can be, and is. I know that Christianity works, and I know what the other side is.
This was the first time I had ever testified before a [legislative] committee in my life. I was apprehensive and prayed a lot because I want so badly for people to see my heart—that I am not a radical, that I don’t hate anybody. But I saw what they did to Anita Bryant. I heard what they said about Geneva Kirk Brooks [President of Citizens Against Pornography in Houston]—”Burn Brooks, not books.”
A few years ago, my husband and I were at one of the [Gay Pride Week parades]. After the parade broke up, some of them walked by us, talking to each other, but I heard them look around and say, “Mess with us, and we’ll rape your kids.”
The people of the state of Texas are about to vote on gay marriage, and this amendment is a “get to”—we are going to “get to” see where Texans stand on this issue—where “we the people” stand. We pro-family Christians have been on the defensive for a long time. Some have called us ultra-conservatives who only want to vote against issues, to vote issues down—like we were bigots, almost—so now we want to vote for something—for the family.
The sign on my church says “Baptist,” but I am more Christian than Baptist. No man is perfect except for Jesus who died on the cross. He taught us to love people, so we love people, but, simply put, we do not tolerate or stand for the homosexual lifestyle.
The Bible is what my wife and I choose to live by, and it’s one of the reasons that we are totally pro-family. We speak for the family because we ARE a family. There is a natural way that human beings are crafted to operate, and that is on a heterosexual basis.
We had a homosexual in my family, a young man. During high school, he learned to be gay; he wasn’t before that. Was that different for my family? You bet it was, because we are a family of heterosexuals who really believe in being heterosexual. About two years ago, that young man learned not to be homosexual, and he has a girlfriend now. Right in the midst of all this social controversy, he learned to be gay, and then he learned not to be. I’ve seen him changed, and I’ve seen two or three or four changed.
Logically, [policing sexual behavior] is out of the reach of the government, but I’m not saying that I believe it should be. There is not enough manpower—not enough people working for the government—to go into every home of every professing homosexual to put eyes on them and watch to see that they do not commit homosexual acts. That’s not possible. There is not enough manpower.
Sarah and I can both say with a clear conscience, “We do not hate the [gay] person.” We are against the lifestyle, not the person. In our years of running this college ministry, we have ministered to, talked to, and befriended gay people. Do we condone the lifestyle? No, we don’t. It wouldn’t be right to do so. You wouldn’t watch your child doing something you strongly disagree with and say, “It’s okay. Continue.” But you don’t “not love” your child, although some Christians may mess up.
Even if your mother was a racist, you can condemn her actions and behavior, but you will also defend her until the day she dies. Nobody is going to lay a hand on your mother because you love her. If your mother is a racist, she was taught to be a racist, and being taught to be a racist does not make it right. Homosexuals were also taught homosexual behaviors, but that doesn’t make those behaviors right either.
Let me ask you this: Who is the state? Who is the church? It’s the people, the same people who make up the government, and it’s impossible to separate a person from himself, correct?
TO: Then do you believe in the separation of church and state?
AW: I do not want to go there. I do not want to answer that question because it’s too controversial, and my answer can be taken in too many different w
ys. I am not going to answer that question.
From my perspective, it is absolutely critical that we fight to maintain the family structure, which is one of the most, if not the most, fundamental institutions in our society. If we can protect the family, I think that will lead to an overall better society. Because of that deterioration of family structure you can see a tear at the moral fabric of the United States.
In a family, the mother and father each have important roles—certain leadership abilities of the father, and the special physical connection that only a mother and a child can have. Those different roles—and neither is less than the other—are critical to the development of a child who will grow up with principles of self-accountability, self-responsibility, discipline, and respect. I think that a definition of matrimony as anything other than a union between a man and a woman—and I am choosing my words carefully—is one of those things that could destroy the family structure as, in my opinion, it was meant to be.
TO: So, if gay marriage was legalized there would be more homosexuality?
NR: I think the answer to that is yes. In some states, people in gay marriages or civil unions can now adopt and raise children; those children will not be raised the way a man and a woman would raise that child. [In those unions] homosexuality will also be promoted, and it continues to grow. We see it on TV shows now. We see it everywhere. Everywhere. It is slowly becoming more acceptable. When I raise my child, and he goes to school with a child with gay parents, do I mind them hanging out? No. That wouldn’t go against what we believe, but you can see how those ideas can make their way inside the church, inside society.
Would I say that a practicing homosexual is going to hell? No, but I would say that it is between them and God. I can only tell you what the Bible says is a sin based on our interpretation of scripture, but one’s standing with God—that’s only between God and that person.
TO: Can homosexual Christians join your church?
NR: I would say they can join my church. I mean, I can’t turn them away. I can’t turn away homosexuals, prostitutes, drug addicts—I can’t. Because if I could turn those people away, I’d have to turn away every single person in my church. I would have to leave church—you know what I’m saying? Because church is a place where you come to clean up. You come before God to fight all that.
You’re asking tough questions, and I know my answer may not be popular with some people—”Oh, gay people in the church, oh my gosh. They’re here to infiltrate.” As much as homosexuality is a sin, that’s how much we have to confront it, why we have to deal with it. I know many Christian churches will disagree with me, but I don’t think welcoming them into the church affirms their lifestyle.
TO: Is prejudice against homosexuals similar to racism?
NR: No. I don’t think being born a Hispanic is a sin. Nowhere in the Bible do I see “Thou shalt not be an Afro-American, thou shalt not be Asian.” I think this is entirely different.
Do I see it as discriminatory? Discriminatory would imply that somehow you think those people are less, or that somehow you think you’re better than them. Personally, my fight isn’t that.
And again, supporting this amendment is not an act of hostility. It’s not a personal act of violence. Perhaps as a church we’ve done a poor job of articulating that, maybe because at times we’re not mature enough in our relationship with God that we can articulate it that way. But I’m not going to question a person’s Christianity because they’re flinging words of hate at homosexuals. I won’t agree with it, but I’m very careful about making a judgment call and saying, “Hey, I don’t think you’re Christian.”
I heard recently there was a church, a Baptist church, in one of the southern states—they did some kind of rally, yelling, “We hate homosexuals. We hate you for this. God’s going to kill you. God hates you. Blah, blah, blah.” Clearly, that’s wrong. No doubt, no doubt. Now if this is a church doing it, well, you know, there are some elements of that kind of thinking everywhere. Look at some of the extreme Muslim churches, you know—”God hates everyone who isn’t Muslim, so we’re going kill you all.” You gotta watch out for that, but that kind of extreme position is not representative of the Christian body.
Steve Satterwhite is a an award-winning photo journalist who lives in Duncanville and is working hard to finish his B.A. in History at Dallas Baptist University.