Tony Perkins, who is president of the Family Research Council, has a history of seeing "religious freedom" as a way to trample on LGBTQ civil rights.
Marilyn Drew Necci | May 16, 2018
Since the dawn of the Trump administration, we’ve watched the president make a mockery of his campaign promise to support the LGBTQ community — and one of his key allies in his post-election anti-LGBTQ crusade has been Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has worked tirelessly to ensure many of Trump’s anti-LGBTQ appointees have smooth paths to confirmation.
Now, McConnell has gotten into the act himself, announcing Monday that he’d appointed Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, to a two-year term on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Perkins has been an opponent of LGBTQ civil rights for decades; in 2006, he was a champion of the Federal Marriage Protection Amendment, which attempted to create an amendment to the US Constitution outlawing same-sex marriage. He also opposed repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the early days of the Obama administration, claiming it would constrain the religious liberty of military chaplains.
So yes, he’s THAT kind of “religious freedom” advocate, the kind who uses religion as an excuse for intolerance. Meanwhile, when you think about the sort of religious freedom that the first amendment actually protects, he’s opposed to that stuff — he has said on his radio show, Washington Watch, that Muslims aren’t protected under the Constitution because their religion “tears at the fabric of society.” On the same radio show, he’s also said that religious rights don’t apply to LGBTQ-inclusive Christian churches, because the “orthodox Christian faith” hasn’t traditionally supported same sex marriage. So only anti-marriage equality crusaders like him are real Christians.
In recent years, Perkins and the FRC have been major players in the campaign to pass anti-trans bathroom bills; Perkins was heavily involved in the unsuccessful 2017 campaign to pass a bathroom bill in Texas, testifying on the state Senate floor in support of the bill and operating a training center from an auditorium within the Texas statehouse to teach Texas pastors how to lobby their legislators. And of course, the Family Research Council’s website remains a virtual clearinghouse of anti-trans-bathroom-use propaganda to this day.
If you’re wondering how someone with such narrow views can end up on a commission for religious freedom, the origins of the USCIRF might be enlightening to learn about. Created in 1996, its stated focus was to protect Christians around the world, as can be seen in a 1997 report entitled “United States Policies in Support of Religious Freedom: Focus on Christians.” So if their focus has always been on Christianity, it makes a depressing sort of sense that they’d pick a man who only supports the religious rights of people he considers “orthodox Christians.”
And while Mitch McConnell hasn’t exactly been the most progressive Senate Majority Leader Congress has ever seen, he isn’t really known for these sorts of moves either. And yet, McConnell did join with Perkins to vote in favor of the Federal Marriage Protection Amendment, and has voted against ending LGBTQ employment discrimination as well as against adding sexual orientation to federal hate crime statutes. The fact that he appointed the president of the Family Research Council, which has been classified as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, to serve on an international commission protecting “religious freedom” falls right in line.
Photo by Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia