Focus on Your Local Focus on the Family
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Nov 10, 2005 at 03:10:54 AM EST
Anti-gay politics is at the center of American life these days. Some argue that many Republican successes are predicated on the idea of "turning out the base" with this "wedge issue." While it is not always clear that this tactic is as successful as some say, there is no question that it is taking place. Anti-gay politics is a staple of American life. So, who exactly is behind this?
Well, there are many actors, of course. But I want to focus on just one, multidimensional player: Focus on the Family headed by Christian radio psycologist James Dobson. And I want to zero in on one aspect in particular -- Focus on the Family political operations in the states.

Several years ago, I wrote a study about state level conservative think tanks and advocacy groups, published by Political Research Associates (pdf file). There were two, related networks started in tandem in the late 1980s. One emphasized the business/libertarian part of public policy, and the other emphasized the policy issues dear to the religious right. The latter, was the network of Family Policy Councils affiliated with James Dobson's Focus on the Family. The details have changed since I published that study, but the general trajectory remains the same. Most importantly, these groups are at the forefront of antimarriage equality campaigns nationwide, and their role as fronts for Focus on the Family are not widely understood and that Dobson's organization has active, organizational tentacle in 34 states, in addition to his radio program which is available just about everywhere.

For example, the point group in the recently defeated effort to repeal anti-discrimination laws in Maine, was the FOF affiliate, the Christian Civic League of Maine.

In defeat, the Maine FOF group immediately announced that they will now seek to amend the state constitution to ban marriage equality. When they do, they can draw on the experience of many other FOF-led efforts from around the country. For example, the point group in seeking to get an anti-marriage equality measure on the ballot in Massachusetts, is the Massachusetts Family Institute.

Some already existing local groups grafted onto FOF as state level affiliates, and others were started from scratch. And some groups have come and gone. But whatever their genesis, they are joined at the hip with Focus on the Family, just as the Family Research Council serves as the group's de facto political lobby in Washington, DC. The Family Research Council merged with FOF in 1988, but later decoupled in order to give it more flexibility politically without necessarily reflecting on the Focus on the Family. However, the distinction has always been pretty thin. Among other things, James Dobson has remained on the board of directors all these years.

Similarly, although the FOF states that the State Family Councils "have no corporate or financial relationship with each other or with Focus on the Family," this is disingenuous, since an organization must meet certain criteria to become affiliated with Focus on the Family; and must behave in certain ways in order to maintain it's standing. Some groups have been dropped over the years. Even a casual examination of the web sites of these groups will show, they have similar, although not uniform, structures, procedures, and policy agendas. But all are deeply involved in state politics, and thier activities often include voter mobilization and even distribution of voter guides.

There are currently FOF affiliated state policy councils in 34 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Have you focused on your local Focus on the Family?

Here in Texas, the Free Market Foundation is "Focus's" state affiliate. They spearheaded the successful campaign which put an amendment forbidding same-sex marriage into the Texas state constitution earlier this month.

by MaryOGrady on Tue Nov 22, 2005 at 09:23:16 AM EST

In KY, the FotF state affiliate is a group called The Family Foundation which is also one of the two major "players" in dominionism in this state (the other being Frank Simon's Freedom's Heritage Forum, now essentially incorporated into the Kentucky AFA which he also owns--of note, Simon is also a deacon of the specific church I walked away from).

One group that may be linked: (links section and endorsing groups show this is probably a front or at least a very closely allied group)

Examples of their misadventures: (apparently state affiliate is one of the more active FotF fronts) (much as the case elsewhere, largely responsible (along with KY AFA) for passage of law prohibiting recognition of same-sex partner benefits)

Interestingly, there does seem to be a division of "territory" among the two main dominionist groups--AFA/Freedom's Heritage Forum being more active in Louisville and near Cincinatti, and Family Foundation being more active in Lexington and the eastern part of the state.

by dogemperor on Tue Nov 22, 2005 at 02:20:39 PM EST

My local FotF group is the Pennsylvania Family Council

They have active campaigns against gay marriage, and against gambling in the State. They also were tangentially involved in the Dover PA "Intelligent" Design fracas. Now that I know who they are, what can I do about them? I already subscribe to progressive newsletters, send tons of letters to editors of all sorts of journals, call and write my representatives constantly, but what do I do about the PFC? Show up to their meetings? Attend opposing rallies? Scrawl lewd doggerel about them on men's room stalls?

by bybelknap on Mon Nov 21, 2005 at 11:17:42 AM EST

My local FOTF is the FOTF, as I am writing from Colorado Springs.  In answer to "what else do you do," I can suggest talking and communicating directly with moderates who may not understand or may be unaware of the issues facing us as a nation vis a vis the fundamentalist desire for political supremecy.  One might assume that in Colorado Springs, local government would be held firmly in the hands of FOTF supporters, and I can't honestly say there isn't some pandering to FOTF's worldviews (upon which I will be glad to expound when my posting priviledges are activated), but even here moderates have a great deal of power if they only choose to exercise it.

Point in case (and why I replied to this comment):  Colorado Springs School District 11 is the largest school district in Colorado Springs, serving I believe over 10,000 students in K-12.  The recent school board election was to fill 3 of 7 open seats.  Of those remaining on the board, 3 are so-called reformers, in favor of vouchers, and gutting the public school system -- essentially, they are religious conservatives who, among other things tried to pass a resolution defining a family as one man, one woman, married, with children (really).  If even one of the conservative slate running for the three open positions had been elected, I expect we would already be in the 'ID as science' fray.

However, all three moderates, who ran as a slate, won with an overwhelming percentage of the votes cast, and the voter turnout was exceptionally high.  Not because of letters to the editor or demonstrations (both of which are excellent tools), but because people like myself were willing to go talk to the constituents and outline in simple but compelling terms what we foresaw should the conservatives take the Board.

So, in addition to the methods you have tried, add simply being vocal, talking to moderates who will hear you out and are capable of making their own decisions.  Send well thought out essays by email to people you know, explaining your concerns thoughtfully, asking them to in turn send them along to folks they know if they are comfortable doing so.  Make sure that in addition to talking with folks who already agree with your views, that you reach out to those who are not informed, who think that local elections don't really matter, or who can't be bothered to pay attention to politics, and may not have considered just how much the FOTF agenda is already affecting their lives, and how much more it is likely to do so should it remain unchecked.

by Irrevelations on Mon Nov 21, 2005 at 01:47:30 PM EST

Thanks, Irrevelations, I'll heed your advice. Now all I need to do is find some moderates...

by bybelknap on Mon Nov 21, 2005 at 04:51:41 PM EST
Second, Frederick Clarkson and I  - in the course of conceiving this project - have discussed creating a site section where those who are engaged in these fights can share information and strategies, and provide each other advice and emotional support.

When enough members have joined the site it will be viable to for members within geographic regions or states to aggregate and work together at a more local level.

We can't promise exactly when we can implement that, but it would certainly within the core mission of this project

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Nov 21, 2005 at 05:57:37 PM EST

On a (mostly) related note, I came across Bartholomew's analysis of an ASSIST Ministries article about how the Promise Keepers might start influencing gay & lesbian rights elsewhere in the world. Might be worth a look too. It's not FOtF, but it's still chilling.
Potius mori quam foedari.
by LiliSaintcrow on Mon Nov 21, 2005 at 06:32:06 PM EST

The facts are stark and significant. Canada and Spain joined the Netherlands and Belgium in granting full civil marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The North American reality differed from the European counterparts in that it allowed provincial/state governments to approve the measure prior to national recognition. In Canada, it took two years for the national law to pass the Courts and Parliament.

Massachusetts is again the "focus" for the Religious Right - the fundamentalist " as bedfellows " with the paedophile-scandaled Catholic Church - in a Petition Gathering drive that ends tomorrow. The results will be certified on December 7. As usual, the Anglican Communion remains the "via media".

Focus on the Family has used every trick in the arsenal. They hired a California right wing company to gather the signatures. There have been allegations of bait and switch fraud with another petition for liquor sales in new venues. They have signaled the need to recruit their "ex-gay" movement whereby self-loathing men and women can fully endorse their internalised homophobia.

The question is both succinct and simple. Should the secular LGBT activists engage the theocratic and fundamentalist opponents, or should the gay-affirming communities of faith?

Another question follows. Should the "line in the sand" be drawn in Massachusetts - especially now when they have an easier vehicle - or wait until the only toehold in the USA is nullified?

It is my belief that the loss of Massachusetts in the national debate will make the delay between Plessy v Ferguson and Jim Crow to Brown v Board of Education and Loving v Virginia seem like a brief respite.

Still reading and enjoying the content. +R

by LIBERAL CROZIER on Sun Nov 27, 2005 at 12:01:27 PM EST

There's a post in Religious Right Watch today re: FOF

by IseFire on Mon Nov 28, 2005 at 01:43:20 PM EST

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