Onward, Christian soldiers

Keyes, Bauer and Forbes proselytize at a pro-Jesus, anti-gay rally in Des Moines.

Published January 24, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

It's ironic that conservative activist Bill Horn professes to hate gays and porn so much, because he looks remarkably like a gay porn star.

Regardless of this disconnect, gays and pornography were two of the main topics at Horn's "Presidential Rally for Family, Faith & Freedom," held on Saturday night and attended by 1,000 activists and GOP presidential hopefuls Alan Keyes, Steve Forbes, and Gary Bauer.

Forbes, whose courtship of the Christian right has struck some as being more about money and votes than about eternal salvation, sought to improve his Christian cred by strutting around with conservative Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., and Phyllis Schlafly, president of the Eagle Forum and the Republican National Coalition for Life. In Dubuque, Keyes went on an anti-abortion walk. At Glenwood Cemetery in Des Moines, Bauer and his wife placed roses on the grave of the Unknown Fetus, "Baby Isaiah," a stillborn infant found in a local ditch in 1994.

But later that night, at the First Assembly of God Church, abortion wasn't topic A, or even B. The rally's agenda was far more focused; it fixated on gays, lesbians and pornography. Propelled by Keyes, Bauer and Forbes, the third topic on the agenda was front-runner George W. Bush, a notable no-show, and whether or not he hates gays and lesbians and dirty pictures as much as they do.

It makes sense for the Republican candidates to come to Jesus here in Iowa. (Bush and Sen. Orrin Hatch sent letters, which were read at the conclusion of the event.) It's not just that Iowa Republicans are a conservative lot, which they are (60 percent of them oppose legal abortion, according to a recent Iowa Poll).

Iowa Republicans -- especially those motivated to brave the Iowa winter winds to participate in a caucus -- tend to be Bible-beating Republicans. According to a poll by the Des Moines Register, 43 percent of probable GOP caucus participants consider themselves born-again Christians. Likely Republican caucus participants dig candidates who talk about their "personal relationship with Jesus Christ," Tom Landry-style, by a 6-1 margin.

So Saturday was a special day for them. Not only was the rally on the last weekend before the Iowa caucuses, but Saturday was also the 27th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

Before the candidates spoke, the faithful were treated to a full program. Christian cager Jess Settles, a former University of Iowa basketball superstar, fired up an opening prayer. A Hawaiian-shirt-clad Mike Gabbard, the anti-gay activist from Stop Promoting Homosexuality International, warned the crowd of the perils of the Vermont State Supreme Court's ruling on domestic partnerships.

A 14-year-old girl named Sunni Meadow was trotted out by her mother to tell the audience that she had been molested by her porn-obsessed father.

Another mother displayed the lessons taught by her child's misery. Frances Johnston told the story of her son, Michael, a once-wild gay drug user who has now been saved, though not soon enough. Michael is HIV positive. Michael Johnston, who has been featured in television commercials heralding the power of "conversion" from homosexuality, then came out and denounced Vice President Al Gore, Sen. John McCain and Bush for displaying even a modicum of acceptance of gays and lesbians.

Though he refuses to meet with the Log Cabin Society, Bush, after all, has said that he would welcome the support of gays during his campaign.
"Mr. Bush, tolerance of wickedness and sin is no family value," Johnston said.

As for McCain's observation that he could foresee the day when a homosexual was elected president, Johnston just sneered. "Who, by the way, would be the first lady?" Johnston asked. "RuPaul?"

Rounding out the opening acts was keynote speaker Josh McDowell, who furiously pens anti-gay tomes of instruction like "The New Tolerance: How a Cultural Movement Threatens to Destroy You, Your Faith, and Your Children," available in the lobby for $12.99.

And then out came the candidates.

First was Howard Phillips, the candidate of the newly re-christened Constitution Party, formerly the U.S. Taxpayer's Party, looking like the Michelin man with a bad comb-over.

"Ladies and gentlemen, whether or not you know it, you belong to my political party," Phillips said, outlining the party's stance on gun control, taxes, gay rights and abortion. Not used to sharing the stage with candidates of the popularity and stature of, say, Bauer, Phillips was loathe to give up the stage, even after Horn made several lurches in his direction.

Next up was Forbes, who is running a strong second in most Iowa polls, and has tried to capitalize on Bush's reluctance to talk about social issues, including abortion. Introduced by Schlafly, who pragmatically noted that he had the "money" to go the distance against Bush, Forbes delivered one of his best speeches of this campaign. He spoke movingly of the end of his mother's life in deriding euthanasia. He renewed his opposition to abortion, calling Roe vs. Wade "one of the most misbegotten, murderous decisions in American history." And never one to miss a chance to take a swipe at the front-runner, Forbes went on to bash Bush for not pledging, as he has, to only select a pro-life running mate or appoint pro-life judges.

Next was the fiery Keyes, whose command of the issues, dedication to the cause and rhetorical skills have propelled him into a competitive position for third or maybe even second place in Monday's caucuses. He did not disappoint.

Saying the country needed a president who would "vote conscience and principle and nothing else," Keyes took the audience to task for clapping for him. "No, no, no, don't applaud, you see, 'cause I have to tell you, I'm skeptical about y'all," he said. "You can applaud for somebody else. 'Cause I've seen it all too often -- people stand up and applaud for things and say they believe them. And then they go out and they cast their vote in ways calculated to do God knows what."

Keyes also slammed Bush, saying, "We've gone down the road before with kind-of-nice guys who equivocate on all the important issues. Last time I looked, that resulted in eight years of the worst presidency we've ever had. And I promise you ... if we go down the road again, we're going to lose again."

The diminutive Bauer, barely visible behind the lectern, delivered his basic stump speech, notable for little more than its run-of-the-mill homophobia and his last-minute slam against Bush for not attending the event. "Somewhere in a hotel room," Bush is watching, Bauer said. "Governor, this is how you make a promise. And Governor, if you are not going to stand with [conservatives], I've got a prediction tonight -- they are not going to stand with you."

After speaking, all four candidates signed enormous pledge placards against gays and porn. And when they all were done, a bunch of us reporters went into town, got drunk and ended up at a local strip joint called "Big Earl's Gold Mine."

There's only so much sanctimony a guy can take.

By Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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Abortion Lgbt Republican Party