Progressives and liberal journalists are often far too quick to label Republicans as anti-gay. But even a broken clock is right twice a day—and many people are raising legitimate concerns about the GOP’s new Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson.
In the early 2000s, Johnson worked for the ultra-social conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom. And in writings from that period in his life, CNN reports, the Republican lawmaker made some shocking statements about gay people and even defended the criminalization of homosexuality.
“Homosexual relationships are inherently unnatural and, the studies clearly show, are ultimately harmful and costly for everyone,” Johnson wrote. “Society cannot give its stamp of approval to such a dangerous lifestyle. If we change marriage for this tiny, modern minority, we will have to do it for every deviant group. Polygamists, polyamorists, pedophiles, and others will be next in line to claim equal protection. They already are. There will be no legal basis to deny a bisexual the right to marry a partner of each sex, or a person to marry his pet.”
“The state and its citizens have a compelling interest in preserving the integrity of the marital union by making opposite-sex marriage the exclusive form of family relationship endorsed by the government,” he also once wrote. “Loss of this status will de-emphasize the importance of traditional marriage to society, weaken it, and place our entire democratic system in jeopardy by eroding its foundation.”
These particular predictions and apocalyptic warnings look especially silly given the benefit of hindsight. The US legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, and while one can certainly argue that LGBT activism has gotten more extreme in the years since as activists moved onto new terrain, no actual serious push to normalize or legalize pedophilia or bestiality has emerged.
Nor has gay marriage brought about an end to our democratic system. (A warning particularly rich from Johnson, who was one of the main Congressional Trump allies who worked with the former president to try to overturn his 2020 election loss).
The extreme—and yes, fundamentally bigoted—view of gay rights and gay people that Johnson once articulated is radically out-of-step with today’s GOP. A majority of Republicans now support gay marriage and, love him or hate him, former President Trump made history as the first president to enter office supportive of marriage equality.
Yet the most disturbing part of Johnson’s unearthed record was that he once defended the criminalization of homosexuality, going far beyond holding personally anti-gay views and actually trying to superimpose them onto society as the expense of others’ most basic freedoms.
“States have many legitimate grounds to proscribe same-sex deviate sexual intercourse,” Johnson argued in a 2003 article.
This is a deeply authoritarian position that contradicts everything the GOP says it stands for when it comes to individual liberty, small government, and personal freedom.
We’re all left wondering: Does Johnson still hold these extreme views?
People can change, and if his views have evolved over the years, that’d be one thing. Nobody should be written off for life because they held extremely wrong ideas at one point in their life. Yet it’s not even clear that his views have shifted.
In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Johnson was asked about these views and largely demurred. He said he doesn’t even remember making some of these statements and that he’s a “rule-of-law guy,” referencing the fact that legalized gay marriage is the law of the land thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision.
Sorry, but that’s not good enough. Johnson has an obligation to clarify his positions and state definitively on the record that he was wrong to oppose the basic legal freedoms of gay people and that he has no intention of advocating for those positions as Speaker of the House. Anything less is a betrayal of the millions of LGBT Americans who lean right and the countless millions more Republicans who support gay rights.