Conservatives are coming to terms with the growing approval of gay rights around the country by pretending that homophobia and hate crimes are nothing but a myth. This couldn't be any more clear at the Values Voter Summit this weekend, where, among other things, Matthew Shepard's murder was called a "complete fraud." This weekend marked 15 years since Shepard was found beaten and left for dead on a fence in rural Wyoming, later dying from his injuries.
At the Values Voter Summit, the anti-gay American Family Association's Sandy Rios said that Shepard's murder was a lie:
Rios was referring to a new, controversial and perhaps slanted book by author Stephen Jimenez which calls into question whether or not Shepard's killers were bigots. Jimenez is friends with the defense attorney for one of Shepard's killers, who had argued that the murder did not occur because Shepard was gay.
Rios wasn't the only speaker there to talk about gay rights and the right. Ryan Bomberger, a speaker from the pro-life Radiance Foundation, spoke about how homophobia does not exist (to applause) and compared gay people to thieves:
The basic point of these two speakers: no one really hates gay people, and if they do (this is more Bomberger's point), it's not hate. It's just what people's moral compasses tell them to do! Of course, take Bomberger's point a step further and you have the blueprint for justifying segregation — it might just be in your belief system that black/Asian/Latino/white people should all be treated differently.
Rios and Bomberger's actions are exhibits of what's been going on in factions of the conservative party for quite some time now. It's a type of self-induced amnesia where the blame can placed on Democrats (i.e. there is a reason Rios name-checks Bill Clinton and The New York Times). This strategy/coping mechanism became evident during the Supreme Court's oral arguments on DOMA in March when Republican strategist Rick Wilson stated that the Democrats' message is simple: "You’re a beleaguered minority; let us protect you from the evil GOP — oh, and here’s your absentee ballot." It's as if Wilson forgot how Republicans made gay marriage an issue during George W. Bush's election.
During the DOMA oral arguments, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan called out Paul Clement, the lawyer representing the House and defending DOMA, on his misrepresentation of the legislation. The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin reported at the time:
He was portraying DOMA as almost a kind of housekeeping measure, designed to keep federal law consistent across all fifty states. As Clement told it, there was almost no ideological content to the law at all.
Then Justice Elena Kagan swiftly and elegantly lowered the boom on him. She said, "Well, is what happened in 1996—and I’m going to quote from the House Report here—is that 'Congress decided … to express moral disapproval of homosexuality.'"
"Ideological content" is, of course, a fancy legal phrase for morality, religious belief, or bigotry. The speakers at the Values Voter Summit were clearly happy to adopt that crooked excuse as well. But it's chilling to watch them bolster their beliefs with outright lies.