Homophobia has been around for a long time. It turns up in the Old Testament of the Bible as well as in the New. The Republican Religious Right relies on that view in support of its homophobia, and cites chapters and verses in support of it. (Not every religious scholar agrees with that interpretation of the Bible. Indeed, Minister Peter Gomes, the well-known gay [and African-American] Baptist long-time director of the Harvard Divinity School, strongly disagrees with it [see Gomes, P.J., "Homophobic? Re-read Your Bible," New York Times, August 17, 1992, and Westminster, J., The 15% Solution: A Political History of American Fascism, 2001-2022, East Setauket, NY, Thomas Jefferson Press, 1996, pp.155-56]). In modern times it was used by the Nazis to promote their ideology once Hitler's dictatorship had been established. Indeed, despite the fact that the head of the Sturmabteilung, the SA, the most prominent pre-1933 Nazi armed force, Ernst Roehm, was himself homosexual and Hermann Goering was a cross-dresser, the Nazis went after the gays as their identity group of choice for demonization before they went after the Jews full force.
But the use of homophobia as a direct political weapon, designed to help win elections for a given political party, can be seen to be an invention of the modern US Republican Party. Consider this from The 15% Solution (pp. 148-49):
As early as 1985, at a conference entitled 'How to Win an Election,' the future patron of [the fictional first US fascist President] Jefferson Davis Hague, Newton Gingrich, spoke about Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. 'AIDS,' as it was known, was a painfully debilitating condition that almost invariably lead to death. It was later shown that in many of its victims AIDS was associated with a wide variety of diseases that generally weakened the immune system, some of which diseases were sexually transmitted. How ver, it had been quite incorrectly thought for quite some time that the appearance of AIDS had some special linkage to homosexuality. (The homophobes never abandoned that view.)
In any case, in 1985 when Gingrich addressed the issue AIDS presented as a serious public health threat, one that was poorly understood. An increasing number of people, many of them happening to be homosexual, were suffering terribly from the condition. At that time, addressing a Right-wing Reactionary political planning conference, the future speaker of the House of Representatives had this to say about it (The Freedom Writer): 'AIDS is a real crisis. It is worth paying attention to, to study. It's something you ought to be looking at.'
'Ah ha,' you might say, 'your arch Rightwing Reactionary is showing concern about AIDS and its victims, and thinks something should be done to deal with it.' Well-no. Our 'Mr. Newt' as the Right-wing Reactionary political flack Rush Limbaugh inexplicably liked to call him, was not showing concern about this new disease and its victims. Rather he was showing concern about the potential to exploit this growing health and health care problem for Right-wing political purposes. For he had gone on to say:
"'AIDS will do more to direct America (sic) back to the cost of violating traditional values, and to make America (sic) aware of the danger of certain behavior than anything we've seen. For us, it's a great rallying cry (emphasis added).' "
By the 2000s, AIDS had retreated as a major illness in the US, both because of the dying off of susceptibles and because of the development of a series of at least somewhat effective pharmaceuticals to be used in its management. But political homophobia was well-entrenched within the GOP. Rather than AIDS, the new representative issue was gay marriage. Everyone, GOP-er and opponents as well, knew exactly what they were talking about, but since they were supposedly addressing the "institution of marriage," they could claim that they were not being homophobic, only "defending" the former. That marriage in the United States is a bimodal institution, both religious and civil, that there is a major body of civil law in each of the 50 states that governs both marriage and its dissolution, that thus the right of gays to marry is covered by the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, has been treated both by the Religious Right and the GOP as totally irrelevant. (And it is only recently that the gay rights movement itself has finally moved away from "fairness" and "justice" to recognize the centrality of the 14th in protecting their interests.)
Homophobia is embedded in the US culture. Indeed the US is the most homophobic country on the planet other than those of the Muslim world. And so, there is the GOP to exploit it. In 2004, Karl Rove, running a candidate who was getting less and less popular in many quarters, even though he faced a remarkably weak opponent in John Kerry, made a special point of getting an anti-gay marriage of one kind or another onto the ballot in 11 states. He knew that such an initiative would draw to the polls potential GOP-voters who might otherwise stay at home. And it worked. Its use has continued hot and heavy.
It is interesting to note that while the Mormons rail against homosexuality and politicize the issue as well, they seem to have no problem with a behavior that many find to be morally reprehensible and is in fact illegal, even in Utah: bigamy (in that state and just across the border in certain rural areas of others like Colorado, politely known as polygamy). There has been a recent flap over the matter due to a reality show that centers on it. "However," Frank Lovece tells us in Newsday of Oct. 7, 2010, "Scott Troxel, spokesman for the state attorney general's office, told the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah, 'It has been our office's position not to pursue cases of bigamy between consenting adults.' " Funny, but the super-sanctimonious Mormon Senator from Utah, Orrin Hatch, surely didn't take the "if it's between consenting adults, especially when it's not illegal, it's OK" position in the matter of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.
So where does this all lead? It's just politics, no? Well, no. We have seen what the politicization of anti-Semitism did in Europe in the last century. Like homophobia, anti-Semitism had been around for a long time. It was a societal/repressive weapon wielded by Christian churches for centuries since its invention around the time of St. Augustine in the 4th and 5th centuries, CE. But it did not come to have a specifically political use, that is to be used to promote certain political programs and to be used as an issue/weapon in political campaigns, until it was specifically developed as such, beginning in Austria in the 1880s, by such figures as Georg von Schoenerer, whom Hitler regarded as an important inspiration. The Nazi Party ran politically on anti-Semitism, it was fueled by anti-Semitism, its ideology was based in part on the supposition that the Jews were at first "different," then not worthy of/entitled to citizenship, then "less than human." There was a natural progression that proved impossible to stop under the Nazis, that began with politicization of anti-Semitism.
This is not to say that the palpable politicization of homophobia by the GOP will necessarily to lead to a Nazi-type outcome (although in "The 15% Solution" it does, see chap. 18). But the danger is there. The politicization of homophobia makes it "OK" in certain quarters. And so we have the tragic suicide in New Jersey as the result of homophobic persecution. That one got a lot of publicity, likely because it occurred in the New York City area and the poor young man jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge. It turns out, The Huffington Post reported on October 1, 2010, that there were four similar tragic incidents around the country in the previous three weeks.
Our country is going down a very dangerous pathway. The German people had an excuse for what happened to them after Hitler took power: it had never happened before. The American people do not have that excuse.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for BuzzFlash, Dr. Jonas is also Managing Editor and a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Senior Columnist for The Greanville POST; a Contributor to TheHarderStuff newsletter; a Contributor to The Planetary Movement; and a Contributing Columnist for the Project for the Old American Century, POAC.