Westboro Baptist To Debate Amendment 2

Jim Burroway

October 21st, 2008

Florida International University is hosting a debate on Amendment 2, Florida’s so-called “marriage amendment.” Guess who they got to show up to support Amendment 2?

Westboro Baptist. I kid you not.

It turns out that Westboro Baptist was invited by the Stonewall Legal Alliance, an LGBT advocacy group at the FIU College of Law.

This should be fun. Not enlightening, but fun. Some on the right are not amused. I’m not a fan myself of giving this group legitimacy. What do you think?


October 21st, 2008

The people at Florida International University are either very smart or very stupid.

Presuming they know WBC’s stance on gay rights, they may very well be geniuses. Support from WBC for virtually any cause is poison. People voting on the proposition might think twice, knowing that the people who picket soldiers’ funerals with “Thank God for IEDs” signs support it.


October 21st, 2008

I think its kind of a shame. There are conservatives out there who could give the debate a sense of intellectual symmetry and help people understand where the conservatives are coming from. After all, debates are a way to present both sides equally, right?

Instead, the debate will be a freakshow and will accomplish nothing. It will be like George Will debating Cindy Sheehan on foreign policy.


October 21st, 2008

Westboro is one of the greatest benefactors for the queer movement! A cardboard cutout of a gay man in leather bondage would win a debate against them. However, for a queer organization to invite them is inviting a straw man argument – only 0.00001% of queer opponents will use the arguments the Phelps will. So good for politics, bad for intelligence.

As for legitimacy, I can’t imagine any scenario where someone leaves the debate with a higher view of Westboro than when they entered. Westboro is immune to receiving any legitimacy.

Dan Gonzales

October 21st, 2008

I love it! They give homophobia a bad name.


October 21st, 2008

This isn’t giving Westboro Baptist legitimacy, it’s giving them enough rope to hang themselves.


October 21st, 2008

From an earlier story I read on Joe. My. God., the supporters of Prop 2 in Florida declined to attend a debate which is why they reached out to Westboro. The supporters of prop 2 are furious, but they have not changed their position on attending the debate themselves to support their views.


October 21st, 2008

It’s very wise to give a voice to the Phelps clan since they represent an honest portrayal of the anti-gay movement in the flesh. Christian fundamentalists have been softening their anti-gay image for many years in order to insidious convince moderates that their gay hate is rational and in-line with moderate Christian belief.

Phelps takes what the anti-gay Christian folks like Porno Pete, the Falwells, the Dobsons, and those who read this blog and comment here literally. Fred Phelps isn’t a hypocrite and when he says he takes the bible literally, he shows it.

That’s why the “suits” of the anti-gay Religious Right try to distance themselves from them, because if Americans knew what was at the root of this anti-gay Christian movement, they would naturally oppose it.

In reality, there is no difference between the anti-gay Christianity of Fred Phelps, the Catholic heirarchy, Rick Warren, James Dobson, and so on.

Two sides of the same coin: The suits and the street activists work in tandem to push the same agenda.

Dave Hughes

October 21st, 2008

I think it’s great.

As Todd pointed out, the proponents of Prop 2 were invited first and declined. Now they are furious that the Westboro clan is going to represent their side? Too bad! Major fail on their part.

Will it be an honest, intellectual debate? No.
Will it be a freak show? Yes.
Will it drive support away from Prop 2? It’s highly likely. Let’s hope so!


October 21st, 2008

i think its good because it will help our side showing such loons defending prop 2.


October 21st, 2008

Kevin hit the nail on the head.

The only difference between WBC and the James Dobsons of the world is their choice of words. We should never forget that a lot of the same people supporting these amendments today were the ones “palling around” with Anita Bryant back in the day and supporting things like Colorado’s Amendment 2. Not only that, but there is a history of associations between the more visible members of the religious right and unrepentant theocrats like R.J. Rushdoony.

So yes, the only reason why they dislike the WBC crowd is because WBC represents their true selves staring back at them from a mirror.


October 21st, 2008

I say let WBC go on a statewide debating circuit on this issue. The more they speak out the better our chances of winning!


October 21st, 2008

Maybe someone in California should pay to have WBC make an ad and broadcast it around the state.


October 21st, 2008

I say let WBC go on a statewide debating circuit on this issue. The more they speak out the better our chances of winning!

Exactly! I would definately make a powerpoint(or something similar) presentation as an introduction showing their past pickets, web pages and slogans. Just to get the ball rolling from the start.

Samantha Davis

October 21st, 2008

May we borrow the Phelps clan for prop 8?


October 21st, 2008

Shame UCLA isn’t doing the same thing, and having it televised. It would solve the Prop 8 vote shortfall in one move.

Ben in Oakland

October 21st, 2008

I have to disagree. the rightwingers like the phelpsters because it makes them look half-way normal.


October 21st, 2008

The Phelps thrive on publicity. The more you throw it their way the longer the fire burns. Publicity sustains them. Cameras focused on them are almost a narcotic to them. They get power and self-substantiation to continue their quest. They’re not about love but publicity hounds who relish seeing any PR about themselves on/in the TV/newspapers/blogs.

I wish we would all ignore them and let the embers die. They should have been ignored 10 years ago when Matt Shepard was their opportunity for media attention. They have had more than their 15 minutes of shame.


October 21st, 2008

“It will be like George Will debating Cindy Sheehan on foreign policy.”

Ha, ha, ha! Right on P! That’s exactly right.

I think, to paraphrase AJD, the folks of the Stonewall Legal Alliance are both very smart and very stupid. More directly, they are too smart for their own good.

Randy had it right when he said, “FIU, via this campus group, Stonewall Legal Alliance, just stacked the debate in this Associate Professor’s favor. Sure there are two Phelps against him but don’t be fooled by appearances … all mouth + no heart = bigot brain coma.”

That’s a very clever approach. Too clever. It will be seen through by anyone with half a brain. (Meaning the Phelps girls will be oblivious, of course.)

Randy was also correct when he said that “this is not education or a true debate. It will be a freak show and completely unfair to those seeking to know the true arguments for and against” the proposed amendment.

If the people at FIU couldn’t get decent, reasonable amendment proponents to debate they should have cancelled the whole affair. Debating with the Phelps clan only makes a mockery of the University.

Al W.

October 22nd, 2008

I LOVE this! One thing I’ve always said about the WBC is that they’re FAR MORE RESPECTABLE than Focus on the Family and some of the other anti-gay groups because the WBC is HONEST about their hate. I say let ’em get up on stage and show people what being anti-gay is REALLY all about.

Nate Phelps

October 23rd, 2008

Dave Hughes said: “Will it be an honest, intellectual debate? No.”

I don’t know, if my family can do anything, they can debate. 11 of my siblings are attorneys and have made a career of presenting cohesive arguments. In my opinion, where they fail utterly is in their fundamental premise that the bible is the inerrant word of some supreme being. All discussion that flows from that premise must fail.

I am one of those who believe it was genius to invite them. Personally, I am able to conjure up a bit more respect for their in your face brand of hatred toward gays then the equivocating, prevaricating rhetoric from the kinder, gentler gay bashers of the main stream christian movement. Neither is palatable any longer as far as I’m concerned. However, If their presence in a legitimate forum further discredits the failed societal policy of hatred toward gays, more power to them.

David L. Wylie

October 23rd, 2008

The only difference between Janet L. Folger at Faith2Action, a proponent of Amendment 2, and the two Phelps sisters invited to attend the debate? LIPSTICK!!!

Remove the veneer of a coifed hairdo, the haute couture and the refined and well rehearsed false argument that Amendment 2 is only about protecting the sanctity of marriage from the likes of Janet Folger & those of her ilk, what do you have? Shirley & Margie Phelps!!!

The offer to participate was made by the debate organizers to numerous, more ‘mainstream’ of the Amendment 2 Supporters but alas, they declined.

So now we get to see the debate framed in its proper context: Hate & Homophobia at the expense of the thousands of Senior citizens who’ll be hurt by Amendment 2 vs. sound legal arguments defending the equality of all citizens of the State of Florida. Sounds like a great debate! I’ll be there!

Jose Gabilondo

October 25th, 2008

Hi there. I’m the faculty advisor to the Stonewall Legal Alliance and the person who debated Marge and Shirley Phelps today, whom I had never met before. As it turned out, today was no circus and, instead, obeyed the ordinary rules and expectations of university exchange. Although I plan to write a more extended essay about the debate and the underlying issues and am, in fact, presenting on it at Wake Forest Law School next week, the commentary on this blog is so thoughtful that I did want to share some preliminary thoughts.

First of all, the Stonewall group really did reach out to several local and national proponents of Amendment 2, so let me reject in the most strenuous way the idea that their inviting Westboro was a crutch for what Stonewall or I feared would be a weak argument against Amendment 2. The students had no money to pay the expenses of any speaker, so their choices were limited. It was very important to them that the event include some kind of juxtaposition of views, in addition to the panel scheduled for the afternoon. The Stonewall students worked very hard on this event and it pained me (and them) to see them criticized and, at times, even ridiculed in this way. I was willing to participate in the debate because it relates to my research on the role of law in how heterosexuals come to see themselves (heterosexual subject formation) and a current article on how new Right operatives have made what are really reactionary views come to seem “conservative” by co-opting liberal ideas like “balance” and “diversity” for their ends. And Nate Phelps is right about his family. I have never followed the Phelps but what I saw today reflected experience and savvy with debate formats and traditional legal arguments, although of the more theocratic variety.

Second, and more disturbingly, what the debate brouhaha showed me was how poorly many people understand the function of a public university, the culture of intellectual exchange, and the rules of the game, as far as U.S. speech culture is concerned. Except on those rare occasions when a public university is addressing a question about its own corporate identity, the speech that goes on at a public research university is that of the many people and institutions that make up the rich mosaic which is a public university. To suggest some kind of vetting or oversight by administration officials of student activities, as some have, is the kind of prior restraint that Anglo-American legal culture long ago decided was repugnant to what we think of as freedom.

Moreover, the function of the academic enterprise is truth-seeking, not balance, although I realize that I am violating post-modernity’s Nicene Creed against the possibility of truth. The organizer of a speech event – students or otherwise – have the freedom to pursue their vision of its content and participants. To argue that the presence of “mainstream” institutions (whatever those are) is a proxy for the kind of intellectual rigor needed for truth-seeking is a big mistake: what this argument is really saying is “Please confine the scope of your inquiry to the existing consensus, as I have more faith in that than in having to think for myself about new material.” One of the most important decisions that a glbtq person must make is whether to see himself through his own eyes or through the perspective of straight society which, in case you hadn’t noticed already, IS the mainstream . A little original thinking on this score is not such a bad thing.

Finally, we are experiencing an important moment of openness and realignment in how we think about the gay-straight question. As I see it, it is an age of schism and cleavage in the heterosexual community, in the sense that faith communities are splitting on this issue (for Heaven’s sake! they should – what could be more important to a faith community than bearing witness to truth?) and that legal developments like the Defense of Marriage movements are calling the question, allowing people to take clear, public positions, so that we can see where people stand and act accordingly. (It’s about time.) A key thing that is happening is that heterosexuals are becoming increasingly aware of their individual and collective role in majoritarian abuses against sexual minorities. Some heterosexuals embrace the new consciousness; some object vigorously, trying in vain to put the toothpaste back in the tube; but most are still undecided and would benefit from a clear exposition of what is at stake when a supermajority works at erasing the existence of a minority. If you care about helping people to make choices that serve their core values (be they the values of old time religion and majoritarian overreaching or those of the secular human potential movement), you can help most by revealing the truth of what is at stake in these so called “marriage protection” amendments. In my opinion, today’s debate did that in spades, making a contribution not just on this issue but to speech generally as a way of finding and affirming your values.

Just for the record – the last two weeks have probably been the most stressful 2 weeks of my professional life due to intense hostility and scrutiny over this event, but now that it’s over, I feel relieved, proud of the courage and integrity of our Stonewall Legal Alliance and its leadership, grateful that I had the opportunity to bear witness to my truth on the question, and more convinced than ever about the value of open exchange on questions of faith and public policy.

Timothy Kincaid

October 26th, 2008


Thank you for commenting here and providing more information both about the event and about your motivations for participation.

I think that the concerns of the readers at this site was not one of excluding voices to only “mainsyream” opinion, but rather that this not be an artificial debate wherein the participants were selected so as to result in a particular conclusion. I think they feared that selecting the Phelps sisters would limit argument against the amendment only to religious rants, causing it to appear as though those who favor the amendement do so only out of adherence to extreme Levitical law.

If the Phelpses presented logic, law, and philosophy to religion then it would seem that our concerns did not come to be.

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