Late last month, someone made a plea for gay rights in front of the far-right Family Research Council (FRC) and no one noticed. Even more surprising is who issued it.
In his speech at the 2015 Values Voter Summit sponsored by the legislative arm of the FRC, Center for Medical Progress founder David Daleiden closed his speech by arguing that “the equal protection of the law should extend to all members of the human family, old or young, black or white, able or disabled, gay or straight, born or unborn—those are the values of human dignity and human equality that should be reflected in our laws, our lawmakers, and our law enforcement.”
Without the inclusion of “born or unborn,” this barn-burner of a line would have been right at home in a liberal venue. After all, the principle of “equal protection” for gay and straight people was recently put to use in Obergefell v. Hodges (PDF), which found that “[t]he right of same-sex couples to marry is also derived from the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.”
So why did Daleiden’s argument for equal protection of “gay and straight” garner such applause? Is the typically conservative pro-life movement, for which the young Catholic activist has become an overnight figurehead, turning pro-gay? Or has there been an intersection between the two efforts for some time?
The Values Voter Summit was not the first time that Daleiden, who believes his organization’s undercover videos prove that Planned Parenthood illegally profited from fetal tissue donation, invoked homosexuality in a pro-life argument.
In a July interview with the conservative magazine National Review, Daleiden said of Planned Parenthood, “Every day in the nearly 1,000 abortions they do, they brutally rip apart about 300 black babies, 100 gay babies, and a dozen disabled babies.”
Highlighting the race of aborted fetuses is a common pro-life tactic, but decrying abortion in the name of “gay babies” is a relatively new and intriguing development. Even using the phrase “gay babies” can be read as an implicit endorsement of the idea that people are born gay. Based on Daleiden’s math, too, he apparently believes that as many as one in 10 people are destined to not be heterosexual.
Both of these concepts would be controversial in the political circles through which the most ardent pro-lifers typically run.
The FRC, for example, believes that LGBT identities are “unhealthy and destructive to individual persons, families, and society.” They also argue that there is “no convincing evidence that a homosexual identity is ever something genetic or inborn” and they “oppose the vigorous efforts of homosexual activists to demand that homosexuality be accepted as equivalent to heterosexuality in law.”
FRC Action did not respond to request for comment on Daleiden’s remarks at the summit.
Reached via email to ask if he supported legal protections for LGBT people, Daleiden told The Daily Beast, “I think my remarks were pretty simple and clear,” adding that his organization’s investigation into Planned Parenthood “implicates core values of whether we equally honor and protect all of our fellow human beings.”
“The pro-life movement’s message to care for an unwanted, unexpected, or inconvenient baby is precisely the kind of message that teaches our society to accept people where they are and to care for other marginalized or stigmatized groups—the elderly, racial minorities, the so-called ‘imperfect’ or disabled, and the LGBT community,” Daleiden wrote.
As for his choice to deliver that message at an event sponsored by FRC Action, Daleiden said, “In general, I’m happy to speak wherever I can promote that, schedule permitting.”
And, when pressed to clarify what his comments entailed in concrete political terms, Daleiden replied, “All I know is that line from my speech got a ton of applause at FRC. My feelings and those of most Americans about human equality beginning in the womb are clear.”
It is not unheard of, although it is uncommon, to find support for LGBT rights and opposition to abortion in the same place. Daleiden pointed to the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians (PLAGAL) as an example of an LGBT organization that opposes abortion. According to the group’s website, PLAGAL “strives to promote a respect for life within the gay community and encourage gay and lesbian participation in the pro-life cause.”
But the presence of LGBT people in the pro-life movement has not been—and is still not—the happiest of marriages.
PLAGAL’s online archive reveals a history of conflict with the organizers of the popular pro-life rally March for Life. In 2002, PLAGAL president Cecilia Brown alleged that now-deceased March for Life founder and famed anti-abortion activist Nellie Gray barred her group from participating in the March for Life, leading to the arrest of Brown and PLAGAL vice president Eric Jurek.
In an open letter to Gray following the incident, Brown wrote, “PLAGAL has worked diligently to build bridges with pro-life organizations as well as organizations within the LGBT community. This work has not been easy. PLAGAL members have sustained a lot of criticism and hateful words because of our work. … Your actions at the March for Life have done nothing but make our work harder.”
After the 2002 march, one PLAGAL member wrote a blog post describing the awkward position of LGBT pro-lifers using a culinary analogy: “The pro-sexual-minority burger comes with pre-selected sociopolitical toppings and, often, a pro-choice side. If you want pro-life fries, they’re accompanied by a conservative Christian burger with anti-gay toppings.”
In a phone interview with The Daily Beast, however, Brown said that the hostility of the aughts has now cooled.
“In the past it was more of a struggle [to find acceptance among pro-lifers] than it is now,” she said. “More nontraditional pro-lifers are coming into the movement.”
After Nellie Gray passed away in 2012, Brown says, March for Life opened itself up to PLAGAL, and to other pro-life groups that fell outside the event’s typical purview like Secular Pro-Life, an organization for atheists, agnostics, and humanists who oppose abortion.
Asked if PLAGAL still encounters homophobia and transphobia in the pro-life movement today, Brown said, “You do have it. I’m not going to lie and say that it’s not there. It is there. But they’re not as vocal as they were in the past.”
Brown also rejects the idea that being pro-LGBT and pro-life is a contradictory stance, an accusation sometimes made on the grounds of bodily autonomy or sexual freedom.
“They’re really not the same issue at all,” she said. “People loving each other is certainly a lot different than women having abortions.”
Over the past three years, she says, the conversation around pro-LGBT pro-lifers has been evolving.
In 2013, pro-life news outlet LifeNews acknowledged March for Life’s messy history with PLAGAL but reported that, now, the gay Republican group GOProud would be permitted to join.
“While most pro-life people oppose same-sex marriage and sometimes lump the two separate political issues together, other pro-life advocates say gays and lesbians have a good reason to strongly oppose abortion [because] scientists could demonstrate that being gay or lesbian has a genetic component,” Steven Ertelt, LifeNews founder and editor, summarized the debate at the time.
GOProud did march that year, holding up signs that read, “Hello, I’m pro-life and pro-gay” but their participation did not pass without criticism. One writer for Live Action News—an outlet for which Daleiden wrote in 2010 and 2011—accused GOProud of “attending for self-promotion” and questioned their commitment to the “common cause.” (GOProud, as The Daily Beast’s Tim Mak reported, “functionally folded” that same year and disbanded in 2014.)
March for Life is now technically open to LGBT pro-life groups, under certain conditions.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, said: “We encourage any group that is focused on the pro-life issue, and that issue alone, in good taste, and in good will, to participate in the march with the express purpose of advocating for the right to life for the unborn. I would also offer that while we are open to all pro-life groups, we are a peaceful protest and do not tolerate violence of any kind. (This is our sole criteria for groups not being able to participate in March for Life).”
A March for Life spokesperson added that there have been unofficial meetups around the march for the past few years that have included participation from PLAGAL.
In another sign of change, Steven Ertelt penned an opinion piece for Life News in 2014 reflecting on the discord between the pro-gay and pro-life movements, and pondering the possibility of a shared future.
“Do Gays and Lesbians Have a Place in the Pro-Life Movement?” his headline asked.
“Many pro-life people say the obvious answer is yes—that everyone who shares the pro-life belief that unborn children ought to be protected from abortion is welcome in what is the human rights issue of our time,” Ertelt wrote. “Others say that gay marriage ought to be opposed and that the pro-life movement is somehow endorsing gay marriage by including gays and lesbians within the movement.”
Ertelt declared that his outlet welcomes all “pro-life people under the banner of pro-life,” but he also reposted interviews conducted by Secular Pro-Life with LGBT pro-lifers who relayed that they often feel ostracized by the anti-abortion movement’s religious tenor.
“I firmly believe that if more religious pro-lifers would stop tying in outside beliefs of the church to abortion, such as views on homosexuality or competition with other religious beliefs, it would allow more in the LGBT community to open up and listen,” said Albany, a pansexual atheist.
“[I]f the pro-life movement started leaving their religion at home instead of bringing it to the events, that would be a good start, as well as sticking to abortion and not bringing up gay marriage or other non-related issues,” added Nate, a gay atheist.
In the United States, religion is still one of the most reliable demarcations between the pro-life and pro-choice movements.
According to 2012 Gallup polling data, 68 percent of nonreligious Americans identified themselves as “pro-choice,” whereas 57 percent of Protestants and other Christians identified themselves as “pro-life.” According to Pew data, 75 percent of white evangelical Protestants believe that having an abortion is “morally wrong”—a belief shared by just 25 percent of the religiously unaffiliated.
Add to this equation the fact that lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults are nearly twice as likely to be religiously unaffiliated and half as likely to be evangelical Christians as straight adults, and it’s easy to see why the confluence of support for pro-life and LGBT causes would be so narrow.
Another Pew survey of LGBT adults found that 73 percent perceived evangelical churches as being “unfriendly” and 79 percent perceived Catholicism in the same way. It follows that many LGBT people would be reluctant to participate in a movement that is often articulated within the context of these belief systems.
But if Daleiden’s Values Voter speech is a sign of things to come, he could be laying the foundation for a pro-gay pro-life movement or, at least, a pro-life movement that adopts some of the rhetoric often used to argue for LGBT rights.
As far back as 2011, Daleiden argued against abortion using the language of “equal protection” in two editorials for Live Action News. In one, he argues that “equal protection” arguments should be used in conjunction with fetal homicide laws to issue a challenge to Roe v. Wade on the grounds that the latter sometimes define fetuses as “persons.” Now, with Daleiden receiving a “hero’s welcome” in front of conservative audiences like the FRC, he is bringing out the equal protection language again.
What remains to be seen is whether or not the pro-life movement will accept that language and the LGBT rights that courts are tying to it.