Is it possible to be for gay rights and against gay marriage? I’ve struggled hard with this question, and for me, the answer is yes. As an expert witness in the California Prop 8 trial on same-sex marriage earlier this year, I tried to spell out and exemplify precisely this idea. But a few weeks ago, a writer and Baptist minister named George Rekers, who by most accounts speaks out frequently against gay rights, got his name in the newspapers by, apparently, spending time in the company of male escorts. As a part of the ensuing mid-sized media kerfuffle, I found myself publicly being called a bigot in the pages of the New York Times and elsewhere, on the grounds that my testimony in the California case was influenced by the writings of Mr. Rekers.
Writing in the Advocate on May 6, Wayne Besen announced that Mr. Rekers has long specialized in providing “pseudoscientific bullet points used by right-wing activists and pundits.” For example: “His research was recently cited in ‘expert’ testimony in the Proposition 8 federal trial by Institute for American Values president David Blankenhorn, who offered up a muddled, incoherent defense of the bigoted ballot measure.” A news story in the New York Times less indignantly but similarly reported that I had “cited” Mr. Rekers’ writings in my submission to the court. And then there’s Frank Rich, who in his May 14 column in the Times writes: “And then there’s Rekers’s cameo in the current Proposition 8 trial in California: one of his homophobic screeds can be found in the bibliography for the ‘expert report’ by David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values, the star witness for the anti-same-sex-marriage forces.” Another of Rich’s recent columns, in which he singles me out for mockery, is entitled “Smoke the Bigots Out of the Closet.”
My children are reading this stuff. My friends are reading it. One of them, now a former friend, citing Frank Rich, recently wrote to me that he was “sad” that I was now “famous for being a bigot.”
Perhaps nothing I say now can change this story line, but I’d like to get a few things off my chest anyway. In both my report to the court and my testimony on the stand, I clearly and emphatically reject the anti-gay views for which Mr. Rekers is known. For example, I told the court that I believe that we are all born equal in rights and dignity. I told the court that I believe in the equal dignity of homosexual love. David Boies, the attorney who cross-examined me, cited some strongly pro-gay arguments and asked me if I agreed with them. When I answered yes, it was widely suggested in the press that I had been pressured by Mr. Boies into making concessions, but in fact Mr. Boies was only reading passages from my book, The Future of Marriage. I agree with what I wrote, and I was happy to tell him so.
Mr. Rekers seems to be a crusader against gay adoption. I have publicly stated my support for gay adoption. Mr. Rekers also seems to be a polarizer. I have tried as best I can to be a bridge-builder. With Jonathan Rauch, one of the nation’s most prominent advocates of gay marriage, I’ve co-authored an article exploring compromises on the issue and am currently co-chairing an initiative that brings together leading intellectuals from both sides to pursue a civil dialogue and a search for common ground. When the paperback version of my book came out a few months ago, I asked Rauch to write a serious preface, which he graciously did, using the opportunity to state in respectful but forceful terms why he disagrees with me.
My written report to the court contains not a single mention of, or reference to, Mr. Rekers. As I think should be clear by now, Mr. Rekers is about the last person on earth whose views I would wish to endorse, or draw upon as a scholarly reference (what Rich calls a “bibliography”) for my own views. As a result, in two days of testimony on the stand, the lawyers asked me no questions about Mr. Rekers, and in my answers I made no reference of any kind to Mr. Rekers or his writings. All of these facts are easily verifiable matters of public record.
When I was preparing for my report and my deposition – my examination by opposing attorneys prior to my testimony in open court – the lawyers on my side sent me numerous documents from recent California cases regarding marriage-related issues, including the various reports submitted by both sides of the so-called Prop 22 case, which also concerned same-sex marriage. Among those reports was a document authored by Mr. Rekers. I read it, and in my deposition, when asked by the opposing attorneys if I had indeed read it, I answered yes. That fact, in turn, was reported to the court in a separate document (not the body of my report) containing a list of everything that I as an expert witness had “considered” in preparing for my role in the case.
And that, patient reader, is the only specific link between me and Mr. Rekers. To follow the recommendation of the lawyers to familiarize myself with a previous case, I read a report by him, just as I read reports by people who took positions diametrically opposed to his. That’s it. But that’s quite enough, apparently, for Frank Rich and others, who had easy access to the actual facts, to shout “bigot” in the public square in a remarkably sleazy and unprofessional way.
I must now make a correction to the record. I forgot even having read the Rekers article, and in my haste in responding to the recent media smear, I wrote a letter to the New York Times, and posted something on this blog, saying that I had not read anything that Rekers had ever written. When I wrote it, I thought it was true, but now that I have gone back to pull out all the documents that were sent to me at that time and to re-read my deposition, I see that it was not true. Apparently I did read the damn thing. (I certainly wish that I hadn’t, given the useful tool that is has become for journalists and others who seem quite willing to smear other people unfairly.) I say this now in order to correct an error on my part, and in the hope that laying out the facts this way, as carefully and fully and accurately as I am able, might lessen the likelihood of more sleaze and misrepresentation in the future, especially since media coverage of the Prop 8 case is almost certain to spike sharply again in mid-June, when the lawyers in San Francisco present their closing arguments.