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Box Turtle BulletinNews, analysis and fact-checking of anti-gay rhetoric
“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
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Posts for September, 2007

Family Impact Summit “Attendance Less Than Hoped”

Jim Burroway

September 30th, 2007

The American Family Association’s OneNewsNow reports on the dismal turnout for last weekend’s “Family Impact Summit” held in Brandon, Florida. The final tally was only about half of what they had hoped to achieve:

By Friday evening, just over 100 people had registered to hear speakers that included Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Southern Baptist leader Richard Land, former presidential candidate Gary Bauer and the American Family Association’s Don Wildmon.

A workshop on grass roots activism drew a handful of people — and one was a spy, an activist for Americans United for Separation of Church and State researching the opposition.

Well, there was more than just that one “spy” there. There was also Cathy James, whose calm and measured demeanor brought low the mighty during a question and answer session. And of course, there was yours truly.

Family Impact Summit

But I can vouch for the low turnout, especially during the morning and afternoon sessions. It often felt as if there were more volunteers, exhibitors and speakers milling around than actual attendees. Only during the evening hours would the audience swell to three hundred or so. On the last night of the event, the turnought might have approached four hundred to hear the much-anticipated stars of the event, Ken Blackwell and Tony Perkins. By the way, the evening events were generally free of charge to the public.

I often overheard a few speakers and volunteers grumble about the attendance during breaks and over dinner. The disappointments weren’t limited to this event either. A few complained about how difficult it was to get a decent turnout at even larger, better funded and more heavily advertised events as well.

Is this a harbinger for things to come?

Family Impact Summit: A Lesbian Shows Peter Sprigg How To Debate

Jim Burroway

September 24th, 2007

It was last Saturday afternoon, and I had already endured nearly two full days of the Family Impact Summit in Tampa. You can imagine what kind of a mood I was in by then. And as I sat down to enjoy another dose of verbal gay-bashing at a town hall meeting called “Defending Marriage: What’s At Stake?” I overheard two people behind me talking about a small protest by gay activists that was taking place outside.

“Do you think any of them will try to come in here?” the older one asked.

“Nah. They won’t bother because they know they won’t be able to find anyone to have sex with afterwards,” sneered the other.

“Hah! So true!”

Nice crowd. These were the kind of people whose company I enjoyed for most of the weekend.

L-R: Rena Lindevalsen, Peter Sprigg, John Stemberger, Dale O’Leary

Only about 120 people took their seats in the sanctuary for the main even that afternoon. This session was conducted by four B-list speakers: Rena Lindevaldsen, law professor at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University and associate director of the Center for Constitutional Litigation and Policy; Peter Sprigg, vice president for policy at the Family Research Council; John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council which is collecting signatures to put a gay marriage ban on the Florida ballot; and Dale O’Leary, a speaker and author who bills herself as an expert on the “lies” of the gay rights movement.

And when they began their panel, we heard about a two more hours of lies from the anti-gay movement.

I won’t get into all of them here – it would take a book to do it and they aren’t anything you haven’t heard before. But it mostly went like this: we’re all prone to mental illnesses and physical diseases, we’ve all been abused as children, we’re all substance abusers, and we don’t really want marriage because we don’t want it to interfere with our promiscuity. Dale O’Leary put it this way:

And so I think we need to understand is that the desire to live in a nice little cottage with a dog and two children and all the things we think of as parents is not their goal. That is their P.R.

But at least she was nice enough to note, “The fact is, they love the children they acquire.” But after detailing the supposedly horrible childhoods these “acquired” children endure, she concluded, “Nobody should be in the business of making tragedies.”

After the panelists had their say (after about an hour of this, I might add), the “town hall meeting” was finally opened up to questions from the floor. And the second questioner, a brave young woman wearing a red tee-shirt, was a stunner:

Hi. My names is Cathy James and I would like to challenge all of the individuals here listening today to really take a look at some of the rationale and some of the comments that speakers have given in regard to things such as …why government gets involved with personal relationships, that is, for the procreation of children. I think as most of the attorneys will tell you, that civil marriage was created for one purpose only, and that was property and how to divide property.

And so I am a lesbian, I live in the Riverview area with my partner of thirteen years and our son who is seven. And I go to work Monday through Friday and attend church weekly, I volunteer at the school, I volunteer at the homeowners association. And what I have a hard time understanding is why you are interested in keeping a legal framework from us in being able to handle the same things as heterosexual couples and such things as visitation, and hospital…. And how to divide our property in the same way, and how to parent our child?

The stunned silence was amazing. John Stemberger thanked her for coming and tried to stammer out an answer. He said that some forms of discrimination are perfectly legitimate (“home ownership benefits society in the way renters do not.”) and ended by saying, “marriage uniquely benefits society in the way same sex couples do not.” But Cathy remained calm and firm:

But in what way? What’s the difference in the benefit? How does your marriage benefit society more than my relationship with my same gender partner does not?

Peter Sprigg jumped in to assert that “without question” the best family structure was headed by a man and a woman. But Cathy persisted:

…But now you’re devaluing, what, over fifty percent of the children who live with one parent or that one parent as died or that they’re divorced and now they’re just living with one parent. You’re devaluing them and that’s not fair.

By now the panel was speechless, leaving Peter Sprigg to stumble around trying to get his footing. “Each person’s relationship choices serves as an example to the rest of society… and if that example becomes more widespread, more people will make the same choice, more children will suffer.”

So you’re saying a man and a woman in a marriage are valued higher than single people? They’re valued higher than…

Sprigg cut her off and instead of relying on his own outwitted wits, he decided to read from David Blankenhorn’s book, The Future of Marriage. And as he read, his voice rose, becoming more strident, more angry, more sharp with each word. “I would be rich if I had a nickel for every time someone who knows almost nothing about marriage has told me that historically marriage was all about property. That is nonsense!” But as he continued to spit out the words, it slowly dawned on him that Blankenhorn was talking about dowries and gifts to the bride’s family – which had nothing do with Cathy’s questions.

Clearly Sprigg is a man who doesn’t like having his reputation as an “expert” challenged. And it became obvious that he wasn’t up to this particular challenge. But he kept reading, vainly looking for the rescue that he was sure he’d find in Blankenhorn’s book. But it wasn’t there. He finally gave up and Cathy graciously thanked all of the panelists for their time.

For the two and a half days of the summit so-called “experts,” one after another, paraded from one stage to another convincing everyone who would listen that homosexuals would be the downfall of society. The solution? “Ordered Liberty Under God” went the oft-repeated battle cry.

But one brave woman burst through the bluster and showed that the emperors had no clothes. It was a wonderful moment, and for me the greatest highlight of the whole conference.