Q on the tube: Free speech, hate speech

As the disgraced Miss California, Carrie Prejean, continues to make the talk-show rounds in her crusade against same-sex marriage, the Rev. Pat Robertson has weighed in again on the subject.

Robertson, who in the past has declared that natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina’s decimation of New Orleans were God’s punishment against queers, felt compelled to remind Christian Broadcast Network viewers that same-sex marriage is “anti-biblical” after Maine legalized gay marriage May 7.

Robertson, still the world’s best-known televangelist, extolled the end-times element of the law on CBN the day after Maine Gov. John Baldacci signed the bill into law.

The televangelist asserted that the legalization of same-sex marriage would in turn lead to legalization of polygamy, bestiality, child molestation and pedophilia.

“How can we criminalize these things and, at the same time, have constitutional amendments allowing same-sex marriage among homosexuals?” Robertson queried. “You mark my words, this is just the beginning in a long downward slide in relation to all the things that we consider to be abhorrent.”

On May 17, it will be five years since the first legal same-sex marriages were performed in Massachusetts. Five years and five states later, natural disasters have only befallen the one state to overturn legal same-sex marriage — California.

Robertson has not commented on that.

It’s easy to make Robertson a punch line in a late-night talk-show monologue, but commentary like his has lasting and sometimes irrevocable consequences.

On her May 6 show “Bullied to Death,” Oprah addressed the impact of antigay taunts. The show focused on two middle-school boys who had endured antigay bullying to such a degree that each committed suicide. (See “Bullied to Death” at Oprah.com.)

Were the boys gay? It doesn’t matter. They were 11 years old. But at only 11, both Carl Walker-Hoover and Jaheem Herrera had suffered so much from the taunts of schoolmates that each took his own life rather than withstand another day of being called “faggot” and “gay.”

Walker-Hoover’s mother told Oprah her son was “terrified” by the gay baiting and finally hanged himself.

At only 11 years old.

What Oprah’s show made heartbreakingly clear is that the antigay rhetoric promoted by the likes of Prejean and Robertson makes calling a child queer the worst thing possible — whether he or she is or isn’t. In addition, the damage done by comparing legalized marriage of gay and lesbian couples — many of whom have children of their own — with bestiality is brutal and abusive to the children of those unions.

Both ABC and CBS conducted polls last week showing that acceptance of same-sex marriage has leapt by nearly 20 points in the past year. Americans seem to “get” that this is a civil-rights issue. And, the younger they are, the more approving they are.

The Robertsons and the Prejeans are on the wrong side of history and most definitely on the wrong side of compassion. The invective employed by Robertson isn’t much different from the cruder version spat out by middle-school bullies.

The First Amendment is among our most prized amendments. But there’s a fine line between free speech and language that condones, promotes and sustains the brutal atmosphere that caused the deaths of two 11-year-old boys who thought it was easier to die than to endure another day of being called queer.

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.