Virginia Voters, Beware!

We're still "very sick people"?

If you're gay or gay-friendly and think the recent Supreme Court decisions place the march of gay rights within sight of the end zone, please think again.

The words above are those of E.W. Jackson, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor of Virginia, who said that gays are "very sick people psychologically, mentally and emotionally." Mr. Jackson is on this November's ballot -- and again, that's in Virginia, not in some Taliban stronghold. The gubernatorial candidate, Ken Cuccinelli, is standing by his man. Though his own speech is not as hate-tinged as his running mate's, Cuccinelli puts it this way: "Homosexual acts are intrinsically wrong. And I think in a natural-law country it's appropriate to have policies that reflect that."

We know that younger Americans are overwhelmingly (two thirds) in support of same-sex marriage. But older Americans are equally overwhelmingly against it. Fine, you say. They'll die off. Besides, the so-called "autopsy report" issued by the Republican National Committee following the GOP's defeat in the 2012 presidential election warns that a huge block of voters thinks of the GOP as "scary, narrow-minded, and out of touch -- made up of stuffy old men." Doomed to obsolescence? Someday.

Meanwhile, for every current advance in gay civil rights, another hurdle is constructed in backlash, as in the present Virginia gubernatorial race, with its more hardened, mean-spirited GOP platform. This clinging to ultra-right-wing anti-gay conviction is leaving moderate, sensible conservatives adrift.

Read these zingers by Mr. Jackson, the would-be lieutenant governor of Virginia. They're almost breathtaking in their backwardness, if not in their vitriol, regarding gays:

These people are out to transform the culture. And they believe that sexuality is how everybody ought to be defined. And that means sexual freedom, sexual license to do whatever you want to do. And I know their people say, well, "It's unfair to associate homosexuality with pedophilia or some of these other perversions." But I believe that there is a direct connection, because what they really want is absolute sexual freedom.

Their minds are perverted, they're frankly very sick people psychologically, mentally and emotionally and they see everything through the lens of homosexuality. When they talk about love they're not talking about love, they're talking about homosexual sex.

As part of the "human potential movement" of the '60s and '70s, initiated by African Americans and women claiming their due at long last, we gay men and lesbians asserted ourselves, often in boisterous, naked, flamboyant public displays. Such outbursts of long-stifled pride both invigorated everyone in the closet and provided fodder for the bigots, in the form of negative stereotypes. Mr. Jackson is holding on to these stereotypes for dear life. But that was then, and this is now. We are talking about love, commitment, adoption, the eventual elimination of job discrimination, equal civil rights, retirement and Social Security benefits, and the host of yet-to-happen legal protections.

So the battle lines are drawn. This is indeed a continuing fight well into the 21st century. Winning over hearts and minds is a wonderful dream, but it will not happen overnight. Today is still very much about a war of words for votes.

Is Mr. Jackson -- also a reverend -- an isolated preacher-politician? Here are some more of his statements, which extend his ire to millions of ordinary Americans:

I'm a Christian. It's not because I hate anybody. I have religious values that matter to me. So attacking me because I adhere to these principles is attacking every churchgoing person, every family that's living a traditional family life. I don't have anything to rephrase or apologize for. People should not paint me as one-dimensional.

[We must] stop our government from using the law to promote the normalization of homosexuality in society and persecute Christians for holding to the biblical view that it is sin.

So with these pitches Jackson is casting personal bigotry as communal, really Christian. As if this religion-sanctioned message were not blatant enough, his appeal overlaps with that incessant, abstract rant from the right: less government!

To allow same-sex people to marry is another government sledgehammer used to shatter our Judeo-Christian culture.

Here he is preaching to more than just the choir.

You can expect such pronouncements to completely miss the irony of employing government for the very opposite: dictating which variation of human sexuality is legal and which are not.

"Is Virginia for Haters?" asks the headline of a recent New York Times op-ed on his nasty, polarizing campaign. Yes or no, Virginia is only one of 50 states and by no means has the lock on anti-gay battalions. If there are any lingering doubts about what we're up against, one needn't look far beyond the rhetoric of Mr. Jackson and plenty others of his ilk.

Richard Alther's latest novel, The Scar Letters, explores a gay hate crime.