With her death today, Phyllis Schlafly is being hailed as a conservative icon, leader and activist. But to LGBT people, she’ll be remembered as one of the worst homophobes of all time.
The Advocate this year named Schlafly among “The 50 Biggest Homophobes of the Last 50 Years.” Even what conservatives would remember as one her most famous accomplishments — creating the Stop ERA group that blocked the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — was tied up with her homophobic beliefs. Schlafly argued that the ERA, which was designed to stop women from being discriminated against, would lead to same-sex marriage and other rights for gays and lesbians. The scare tactic ensured the amendment fell three states short of ratification at the deadline in 1982.
Schlafly spent a lifetime trying to prevent LGBT people from gaining equality, while spreading an onslaught of falsehoods — and she did all of it despite having a gay son.
After Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio announced his support for marriage equality — and revealed his son is gay — Schlafly attacked, saying voters would kick him out of office, even though “They’ll feel sorry for him, maybe he was pressured by his son to do this.”
Schlafly certainly never budged on her views about same-sex marriage. After the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, saying the law was clearly motivated by antigay animus, Schlafly was outraged. She stuck by the idea that supporting “traditional marriage” isn’t supporting discrimination. But groups such as Right Wing Watch have extensively catalogued her homophobia while heading up the Eagle Forum, the conservative organization launched by her Stop ERA campaign.
Ahead of the Supreme Court ruling favorably on marriage equality, she called on governors to ignore the justices, who she said “think they’re God or something.” And after the ruling, she kept right on insisting “we don’t have to obey it just because a few judges said so.”
In her syndicated column, she called on Congress to pass a resolution that affirmed the “dignity of opposite-sex married couples,” once again using it to idealize couples where “a provider-husband is the principal breadwinner and his wife is dedicated to the job of homemaker.”
Schlafly said the true purpose of same-sex marriage was to “wipe out the Christian religion.”
“The use of same-sex marriage to attack Christian businesses but not businesses run by members of other religions,” she said, “demonstrates what is really driving the demand for the new constitutional right to same-sex marriage.”
It wasn’t the first time she’d suggested gays and lesbians were faking their support for marriage equality.
“I do think that the main goal of the homosexuals is to silence any criticism,” she said in 2013. “Most of them aren’t interested in getting married.”
Her other theory was that LGBT activists actually wanted to get rid of marriage for straight people.
“Knowing how at odds same-sex marriage is with our legal and cultural traditions, we should not be surprised that some homosexual activists are trying to get rid of marriage all together,” she said in 2014. “Same-sex marriage isn’t about granting equality of human rights. Gays are not denied any human rights. Same-sex marriage is about getting rid of the traditional values and institutions that have guided the Western world, including America.”
As marriage equality reached more and more states, Schlafly said she knew of Christians who were leaving those states, “dissenting with their feet.”
Schlafly was by no means focused exclusively on same-sex marriage, though. She ranted about sodomy — “a central feature of same-sex marriage” — and longed for the days when it was criminalized. Then when Caitlyn Jenner transitioned under the public spotlight, Schlafly lamented, “I don’t know what the world’s coming to, I think it’s just plain nuts.”
And even in her last years, Schlafly could create headlines with outrageous things she said about women. In 2014, she suggested women could avoid sexual assault by getting married.
“Marriage settles men down,” she said. “So what’s the answer for women who worry about male violence? It’s not to fear all men. It’s to reject the lifestyle of frequent ‘hookups,’ which is so much promoted on college campuses today, while the women pursue a career and avoid marriage.”
Schlafly’s last days were marred by infighting at her own organization, where her endorsement of Donald Trump over Ted Cruz had left a schism.