The now notorious and highly controversial political ad by Texas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry ignited uproar among voters and caused fissures in the candidate’s own campaign staff. Seen as a last-minute pandering to the religious right as the Iowa caucus nears, Perry’s ad is under fire for its shot at openly gay servicemembers and what some are calling a fictional War on Christianity.
“You don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school,” says Perry in the TV ad.
Dave Guy-Gainer, an openly gay retired chief master sergeant of the Air Force, vocalized his disappointment with Perry’s ad, saying it was not the first time the Texas governor has attacked gay veterans. After signing a state constitutional amendment in 2005 outlawing gay marriage, Perry was asked what he would tell gay Iraq War service members from Texas returning home and hoping to be wed. Perry replied that if they don’t approve of the new law, they can simply find somewhere else to live.
“It’s absolutely offensive to me as a gay man, a veteran and a devout Christian,” said Guy-Gainer, who served in the Air Force for 22 years, including two tours of Vietnam. “And it’s offensive to any service member who is serving or has served, no matter what their sexual orientation.”
Guy-Gainer, a member of Equality Texas’ foundation board of directors, also works on the legislative committee to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), an LGBT-based national nonprofit that successfully helped repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“Rick Perry says you don’t have to be in the pews every Sunday to know something is wrong in this country– well, I am in the pews every Sunday,” Guy-Gainer added. “I consider myself very Christian and my religion teaches us to be tolerant and respectful of others.”
Dennis Coleman, executive director of advocacy group Equality Texas, says Perry’s “anti-gay route” is outdated and out of touch with where the American public stands on LGBT rights.
“Even in Iowa you’re seeing that you can’t use gay baiting as a tactic to win voters,” he said. “When you go to the lowest common denominator, you appeal to fear and that isn’t working anymore. American people want candidates to talk about the issues, not what’s going on in other people’s lives.”
A May 2011 Gallup poll showed, for the first time in history, the majority of U.S. citizens favor same-sex marriage.
A tide shift from the previous year, some 53 percent of Americans support legalizing gay marriage– a figure equal to the last year’s response of those who opposed it. The growing acceptance of LGBT rights extends to the battlefield as polls also showed, before its eventual repeal, most Americans opposed a ban on openly gay servicemembers.
Christian Berle, deputy executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, the nation’s largest GOP gay and lesbian-rights organization, echoes Coleman.
“This ad appears to be a loser for the Perry campaign. It’s out of step with American sentiment when it comes to gay and lesbian open service members,” said Berle. “This was done to amp up support among religious conservatives and is making the case that to be pro-faith you must be anti-equality.”
Coleman says in Texas, Perry has made it no secret where he stands on LGBT rights, from the 2005 anti-gay marriage amendment to the fact that a state law against “homosexual conduct” is still in the Penal Code despite being ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003, as the Texas Independent previously reported. A Class C Misdemeanor, the law is meant to punish someone who “engages in deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex,” with a maximum fine of $500.”
“Those laws were used to discriminate gay people from having relationships, securing employment and having children,” said Coleman. “While the highest court has brought it down, the archaic legislation remains on the books for some symbolic reason. It’s a very strong indication of where Perry stands.”
Additionally, Perry’s recent controversial Houston prayer rally drew fierce criticism from not only faith-based groups who saw it as religiously exclusive, but several local and national LGBT advocacy groups who criticized the Texas governor for joining forces with a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated “anti-gay hate group”, the American Family Association, as the Texas Independent previously reported.
“As a governor and presidential candidate he has allied himself with many groups that don’t support gay and lesbian Americans. If the governor wants to help this country, if he wants to lead the Republican Party, he needs to be more inclusive,” said Berle. “He will need to win over independent and Democratic voters, and to do that he is going to have to abandon these alienating tactics.”
Coleman stresses that while the hotly offensive ad is indicative of Perry’s views on the LGBT community, it is not representative of Texans. A 2010 Equality Texas poll showed 63 percent of Texas voters are in support of allowing gay and lesbian couples to form civil unions while the majority of those polled were in favor of safeguards against employment and housing discrimination against LGBT citizens.
“This falls right in line with what I would expect from him,” said Coleman. “But these are not Texas views– Texans do not hold the same bigotry and hatred that the governor does toward LGBT people. This is not a person you want to be president because this is not someone that is being inclusive to all people.”