The Religious Right Targets Houston Election

by Dan Quinn

It really was only a matter of time. For months the Houston mayoral election focused on issues important to most working families in the city — issues like crime, transportation and economic development. Oh sure, there were occasional subtle references by far-right political activists to the fact that candidate Annise Parker, the current city controller, is a lesbian. But an organized anti-gay smear campaign didn’t develop. That is, it didn’t develop apparently until now, with Parker facing former city attorney Gene Locke in a runoff election on Dec. 12.

According to the Houston Chronicle this weekend:

A cluster of socially conservative Houstonians is planning a campaign to discourage voters from choosing City Controller Annise Parker in the December mayoral runoff because she is a lesbian, according to multiple ministers and conservatives involved in the effort.

The group is motivated by concerns about a “gay takeover” of City Hall, given that two other candidates in the five remaining City Council races are also openly gay, as well as national interest driven by the possibility that Houston could become the first major U.S. city to elect an openly gay woman.

And just who are the leaders behind this coming anti-gay smear campaign? Two religious-right leaders long familiar to the Texas Freedom Network: Dave Welch and Steven Hotze.

Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council, told the Chronicle that he blames Parker for making her sexual orientation an issue:

“The bottom line is that we didn’t pick the battle, she did, when she made her agenda and sexual preference a central part of her campaign. National gay and lesbian activists see this as a historic opportunity. The reality is that’s because they’re promoting an agenda which we believe to be contrary to the concerns of the community and destructive to the family.”

A Chronicle editorial this weekend bluntly countered:

That’s a lie. While Parker has never made a secret of her sexuality, the campaign debate and agenda to date have been wholly defined by the issues facing the city and the comparative qualifications and experience of the candidates.

Welch has popped up on TFN’s radar several times in recent months. In June he attacked the Houston city officials for participating in a gay pride event that Welch said “promotes and glorifies sexual deviancy that most people find immoral as well as destructive to family and marriage.” In September he absurdly accused Texas social studies curriculum writers of engaging in anti-Christian bigotry. In February he attacked Christian clergy who see no conflict between their faith and accepting the science of evolution.

Hotze, a Houston physician, is perhaps even more of an extremist than Welch. In 1982 he campaigned to make it legal to discriminate against gay men and lesbians in housing in Austin. His effort failed. Hotze then moved on to Houston, where he became a leader in the city’s virulent anti-gay politics. In 1985 he campaigned successfully to overturn a Houston ordinance protecting gay city employees from job discrimination. That same year he recruited a “Straight Slate” of eight anti-gay candidates for City Council.

All of the “Straight Slate” candidates lost, but Hotze used his money and connections to turn himself into something of a kingmaker in Harris County Republican politics. And his agenda has extended beyond anti-gay politics into Christian Reconstructionism — a movement that seeks government and society based on fundamentalist Christian principles. As the Houston Press reported a few years ago:

Hotze was able to better articulate his views in 1986, when he was one of dozens of ministers, professionals and laypersons who signed the Coalition on Revival’s Manifesto for the Christian Church. The coalition claims on its Web site to be a national network of religious leaders aligned in a mission “to help the Church rebuild civilization on the principles of the Bible so God’s will may be done on earth as it is in heaven.” They want all aspects of life — government, science and education — to adhere to fundamental biblical beliefs. These beliefs include the following:

• A wife may work outside the home only with her husband’s consent

• “Biblical spanking” that results in “temporary or superficial bruises or welts” should not be considered a crime

• No doctor shall provide medical service on the Sabbath

• All disease and disability is caused by the sin of Adam and Eve

• Medical problems are frequently caused by personal sin

• “Increased longevity generally results from obedience to specific Biblical commands”

• Treatment of the “physical body” is not a doctor’s highest priority

• Doctors have a priestly calling

• People receiving medical treatment are not immune from divine intervention or demonic forces

• Physicians should preach to their patients because salvation is the key to their health

• “Christians need better health to have more energy, tolerate more stress, get depressed less often, and be more creative than our non-Christian counterparts for the advancement of God’s Kingdom.”

Needless to say, that extremists like Hotze and Welch have decided to drag Houston politics once again into the gutter isn’t surprising. The question is whether their tactics will be as successful as they have sometimes been in the past.