It looks like the circus is coming to town here in Florida!
The Westboro Baptist Church, best known for their "God Hates Fags" and Military Funeral protests, is coming to "debate" Florida's Amendment 2, the so-called "Marriage Protection" Amendment, at a forum next week at Florida International University. They were invited by the Stonewall Legal Alliance, a gay group at the FIU College of Law, after the group was unable to get members of the state coalition supporting the amendment to attend.
And it looks like both sides of the amendment fight have some reservations and concerns about injecting the hyper-bigotry of Westboro into the debate...
Westboro is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League monitors its actions. David Barkey, a lawyer for the southern region of ADL, which opposes the amendment, said had this to say about Westboro being involved in the debate:
If you allow such a group and give them a platform, you give them legitimacy. This group should have no legitimacy.
On the other side of the Amendment fight, Naugle-loving Fundie Janet Folger of Faith2Action is miffed as well:
That's the most heinous thing I've ever heard. They go to the most radical group. It's a deliberate attempt to make the pro-marriage people appear to be something they're not.
That seems to be the idea behind the invitation. Jose Gabilondo, an associate law professor at FIU who will to argue against the amendment (while two daughters of Westboro Pastor Fred Phelps will speak for it), said he doesn't see the difference in the message of Westboro and that of more "mainstream" groups that support the amendment:
I think it's a mistake to distinguish between respectable homophobia and unacceptable homophobia.
What does Westboro have to say about all of this? They say they are speaking for God, not spreading hate. Shirley Phelps-Roper (she's the one in the picture above holding the "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" sign), who will speak alongside her sister Margie Phelps, said:
You can't change God. Don't try to make us ashamed of his word. If you want to call God hateful, you do that at your own peril.
I must say I am a bit unsettled about inviting Westboro into a scholarly setting. It does give them and their viewpoint credence. Plus, we all know they travel in packs, so I'm sure they will have their picketers and disgusting signs out in full force at the event.
I know it shows how irrational the backers of this amendment are, but I am concerned that the already heightened atmosphere of intolerance created by the amendment in Florida may just boil over when you add in the inflammatory rhetoric and general craziness of Westboro. The last thing we need in Florida is to inject a group that calls for the death of gay people in the mix.
The event is scheduled for October 25th, 9:30 am, at Florida International University Law School Auditorium, at Rafael Diaz-Balart Hall on the University Park campus, 11200 SW Eighth St., west of Miami.