For U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, the homophobic hits just keep on coming.
Last week, Johnson was one of the speakers at the National Gathering for Prayer and Repentance, an event cofounded by Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, dubbed an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group by the watchdogs at the Southern Poverty Law Center. And a new report from another watchdog organization, Accountable.us, details the extent of Johnson’s relationship with Perkins, which goes back more than a quarter of a century.
“From his decades-long relationship with extreme anti-LGBTQ activist Tony Perkins to his legal career dedicated to rolling back LGBTQ rights, it’s clear where his allegiances lie,” Accountable.us president Caroline Ciccone says of Johnson. “Speaker Johnson is a champion for the dangerous extremist faction of the House MAGA majority — and his leadership has only meant more desperate political stunts to force a far-right agenda instead of actually solving the issues facing our nation.”
The National Gathering for Prayer and Repentance was held Wednesday at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., and featured many Christian right activists and Republican politicians, including 16 members of Congress. Perkins founded the event with Jim Garlow, founder and CEO of Well Versed. Garlow hosted Johnson on a “prayer call” shortly before the latter was elected speaker, and during the call, Johnson said American culture was “dark and depraved,”partly because so many young people identify as “something other than straight.”
During Johnson’s segment of the prayer and repentance event, he shared the stage with the other members of Congress, and each of them offered a prayer. Most, including Johnson, avoided overtly anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric in their prayers, instead saying in general terms that the U.S. has turned away from God and asking for God’s guidance. But there were some exceptions.
For instance, U.S. Rep. Randy Weber of Texas said, “We’ve trampled on holy marriage and called it an alternate lifestyle.” Bob Good of Virginia said the nation has “failed to honor [God’s] designs for marriage and the family.” Mary Miller of Illinois appealed for God’s forgiveness by saying, “We have disparaged your beautiful institution of marriage.” And Wisconsin’s Glenn Grothman listed homosexuality and feminism as evils that must be fought.
They were preceded on the program by Rabbi Jonathan Cahn, a Messianic Jew, that is, a person who identifies as Jewish but accepts Jesus Christ as savior — that church is a evangelical Christian sect. Cahn’s virulently anti-LGBTQ+ views were evident in his presentation. He said America is under the influence of pagan gods and goddesses, one of whom, Ishtar, “the enchantress,” is “the spirit of sexual immorality.”
The enchantress, he said, “turns men into women and women into men” and “seeks to possess an entire generation of children.” She is identified with the rainbow and the month of June, he continued.
Johnson’s entrenchment in the Christian right goes far beyond this event. His work as a lawyer with the Alliance Defense Fund (now Alliance Defending Freedom), which represents many anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-choice clients, is well documented, as are his writings denouncing marriage equality and LGBTQ+ rights in general. His coziness with Perkins is also well known, but the Accountable.us report provides a particularly expansive look at their work together.
They met in the 1990s in Louisiana, when Perkins was a Republican state representative and Johnson a law student at Louisiana State University. They met through Woody Jenkins, then also a Republican state representative who in 1996 ran for an open U.S. Senate seat against Democrat Mary Landrieu. Landrieu won by a narrow margin, leading Jenkins’s supporters to cry fraud. Johnson has said that election formed his views on fraud, and he went on to be closely involved in efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Johnson and Perkins have both worked with the Council for National Policy, which Accountable.us describes as a secretive conservative organization.
When Perkins was a Louisiana state representative, Johnson sometimes helped him write legislation, such as a first-in-the-nation law establishing covenant marriage; it’s harder to end a covenant marriage than a conventional one. “Johnson and his wife, Kelly, were married under this law in 1999,” the report notes.
In 1997, Johnson helped Perkins found the Louisiana Family Forum, a right-wing political group. “Working pro bono, Johnson helped pen the group’s incorporation filing and later represented the organization in lawsuits targeting abortion access and same-sex marriage,” Accountable.us points out. “When Johnson first ran for Congress in 2016, he identified himself as a Louisiana Family Forum board member.”
Johnson and Perkins also worked together on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana Commission on Marriage and Family, to which both were appointed in 2008. Perkins was a board member for a nonprofit law firm, Freedom Guard, that Johnson founded in 2014. It is no longer in operation, but it represented the same type of clients as ADF, and its other projects included drafting model bylaws for churches that characterized homosexuality and transgender identity as “sinful and offensive to God.”
When Perkins ran — unsuccessfully — for U.S. Senate in 2002, Kelly Johnson was one of his first campaign contributors, donating $1,000. Perkins returned the favor and then some in her husband’s first run for Congress, with a contribution of $2,700, the maximum personal donation allowed by law at the time.
In every run since then, Johnson has received the endorsement of the Family Research Council’s political action committee. He’s a three-time recipient of the FRC’s True Blue award, which goes to members of Congress who vote according to the group’s positions 100 percent of the time. That contrasts with Johnson’s zeroes from the Human Rights Campaign. And Johnson has described Perkins as one of his biggest heroes.
“Once a fringe organization on the right, the Family Research Council has been elevated to newfound prominence with the Speaker’s gavel in Mike Johnson’s hand,” the Accountable.us report states. That newfound prominence has chilling implications for LGBTQ+ rights, reproductive freedom, and more.