Last November, Sen. Ted Cruz made some waves when he and two other presidential candidates -- Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal -- addressed an event in Iowa in support of "religious liberty." The event was sponsored by extreme anti-LGBT radio host Kevin Swanson, of the anti-LGBT hate group Generations with Vision.
Swanson has made many anti-LGBT statements over the years, and he has also defended the execution of LGBT people, though he said he would provide LGBT people a chance to repent first. Huckabee and Cruz pleaded ignorance about Swanson's views, which are readily accessible through a web search.
Appearing at the event was a mistake, Rick Tyler, a Cruz campaign spokesman, told USA Today in December. Tyler said that Swanson's comments about supporting the execution of LGBT people are "reprehensible," and further stated that Cruz has spoken out repeatedly against anyone who calls for hatred or violence against homosexuals.
In spite of Tyler's claims about Cruz's support for LGBT people, Cruz was scheduled to be at a campaign rally in Mississippi that included anti-LGBT and anti-Muslim radio host Bryan Fischer, the former director of issues analysis at the American Family Association (AFA), an anti-LGBT hate group. Cruz cancelled the appearance, citing illness, but told his Mississippi campaign chairman, State Sen. Chris McDaniel, that he wanted to come, and that he was still hoping to do a pop-in, but "there's no way he could make a full rally."
Though Fischer was removed from his directorship early last year, he remains a radio host and blogger at AFA. Fischer is known for his vitriolic anti-LGBT and anti-Muslim statements linking homosexuality to pedophilia as well as Nazism. He has called for the criminalization of homosexuality, called for the cessation of Muslim immigration to the U.S. and also stated that Muslims don't have First Amendment rights. Fischer has even attacked African-Americans, saying, "[I]t's no wonder we are now awash in the disastrous social consequences of people who rut like rabbits."
"Religious liberty" has become a rallying cry for anti-LGBT groups, especially since last year's Supreme Court ruling that legalized marriage equality nationwide. A litany of so-called "religious freedom restoration acts" have been proposed in many states, all drafted and driven by anti-LGBT groups attempting to legalize discrimination.
In late February, in fact, the Cruz campaign announced a "religious liberty" advisory council that features several people who have been instrumental in spreading and propagating damaging falsehoods about LGBT people for years.
The narrative behind "religious liberty" portrays Christians who object to homosexuality on biblical grounds as victims of religious persecution. The so-called RFRAs would allow Christians, especially, to deny goods and services to LGBT people on the basis of their religious beliefs. Cruz devotes a page of his website to this new narrative. On day one of a Cruz administration, the site claims, Cruz will "instruct the Department of Justice, the IRS, and every other federal agency that the persecution of religious liberty ends today."
Rubio's campaign website states that "religious liberty is the right to live according to your religious teachings and to have the opportunity to spread it to others, instill it in your children and live it in your everyday life." He has also stated that he has a plan to make same-sex marriage illegal again, which includes appointing only conservative justices to the Supreme Court who would interpret the 2015 ruling differently.
The choices for Cruz's religious liberty advisory council are weighted heavily toward anti-LGBT Christian, something his council has in common with a "marriage and family" advisory board that Senator Marco Rubio's campaign announced in February.
In fact, the two boards share some members:
• Cruz's council includes two people from the anti-LGBT hate group Family Research Council (FRC) which has, for over two decades, worked to defame LGBT people with a variety of discredited myths and pseudoscience. FRC president Tony Perkins is the chair of Cruz's advisory council and has linked homosexuality to pedophilia, even claiming that LGBT people "recruit children." Other FRC officials have over the years called for the deportation of LGBT people, claimed that LGBT households are "violent" and that LGBT people are sexual predators. The FRC website states that "homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed."
• FRC fellow Kenneth Blackwell is on Cruz's new council and Rubio's board. Blackwell has compared same-sex marriage to incest, suggested that transgender and bisexual people would use same-sex marriage to engage in polygamy, and tried to link a 2014 mass murder in California to attacks on "natural marriage."
• Ryan Anderson, a research fellow at the Heritage Center, was also named to Cruz's advisory council and Rubio's board. Anderson is one of the young guns of the anti-LGBT movement who, though not as overt in his anti-LGBT sentiment, routinely traffics in anti-LGBT pseudoscience when speaking to national media. He has also written that the decriminalization of homosexuality helped lead to the Penn State molestation scandal in 2011 and commended a book that supported the criminalization of "sodomitical relationships."
• Another member of Cruz's council is pastor Jim Garlow, who was a major proponent behind California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in 2008. (It was later found unconstitutional in court.) Garlow has repeatedly linked gay marriage to Satan and held a conference at his Skyline megachurch in California in 2015 at which many speakers disparaged homosexuality as unhealthy and destructive.
• The Rubio campaign named Bradford Wilcox to their board. Wilcox, listed as senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is also the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. Wilcox was instrumental in pushing the discredited anti-LGBT Regnerus study into the public square after he played a key role in the study's development by recruiting Regnerus to do it, serving as a paid consultant, and possibly a peer reviewer.
• Everett Piper was also named to Cruz's council and Rubio's board. Piper is president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University and delivered the closing keynote address at the 2015 gathering of the anti-LGBT hate group World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City. At Garlow's 2015 conference, Piper claimed that the LGBT rainbow flag had become "the dark flag of tyranny overnight."
• Cruz has also brought in Kelly Shackelford of the Texas-based Liberty Institute, a legal firm that bills itself as fighting for "religious liberty." In reality, the Liberty Institute works mostly against antidiscrimination ordinances and defends those who claim to have been hurt by them. Shackelford and the Institute peddle alleged anti-Christian incidents (many of which are false or misrepresented) to demonstrate the need for "religious liberty."
• Carol Swain, a professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University, also sits on Cruz's new religious liberty advisory council. A self-described Christian evangelical, Swain garnered attention last year when she wrote an op-ed in the Tennessean claiming that Islam is not like other religions in the United States, and that it "poses an absolute danger to us and our children unless it is monitored better than it has been under the Obama administration."
• Rubio's board includes Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington (FPIW), who worked in 2009 to prevent domestic partnership benefits from including same-sex couples. He also led the battle against same-sex marriage in Washington state through Preserve Marriage Washington. He has called marriage equality "wrong in the eternal sense" and said that once people realized how wrong it is, that is would be abandoned, like the ancient practice of bloodletting. One of the resources that the FPIW website listed with regard to same-sex marriage is an article (the link from the FPIW site is currently broken, but the article can be accessedhere in some browsers) that includes the myths that gay people molest children at a higher rate than heterosexuals and that gay people are promiscuous.
• Caitlin La Ruffa, executive director of the Love and Fidelity Network, is also on Rubio's board. The Network is geared toward helping college students "uphold the institution of marriage," according to the group's website. The site also states that"redefining" marriage to anything other than one man and one woman "jeopardizes the religious liberty" of those who "hold more traditional views on the family" and also causes children to suffer "from a weakening marriage culture." Gay parents, the website adds, are denying a child of either a mother or a father, no matter a gay parent's love and provision for that child and that the child would "do best" when raised by their married mother and father.