In the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling finding DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) to be unconstitutional, I feel compelled to send a little gratitude toward the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas.
For those not familiar with this "church," the hate group founded by self-proclaimed pastor Fred Phelps and consisting largely of his offspring, is not affiliated with any Baptist denomination (they have been denounced by all known denominations of the Baptist church). The church describes itself as following Primitive Baptist and Calvinist principles, and its apparent singular mission is to publicly oppose gay relationships and any person or entity that supports them. If you head on over to the WBC's website (at the url "godhatesfags.com"), you'll find the following seemingly innocuous description:
WBC engages in daily peaceful sidewalk demonstrations opposing the homosexual lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth. We display large, colorful signs containing Bible words and sentiments, including: GOD HATES FAGS, FAGS HATE GOD, AIDS CURES FAGS, THANK GOD FOR AIDS, FAGS BURN IN HELL, GOD IS NOT MOCKED, FAGS ARE NATURE FREAKS, GOD GAVE FAGS UP, NO SPECIAL LAWS FOR FAGS, FAGS DOOM NATIONS, THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS, FAG TROOPS, GOD BLEW UP THE TROOPS, GOD HATES AMERICA, AMERICA IS DOOMED, THE WORLD IS DOOMED, etc.
(I especially love the "etc." at the end of that quote, as though they've just listed a variety of seasonal vegetables.)
At any rate, the members of this clan are rabidly opposed to homosexuality and have devoted their lives to protesting it and any person, place or thing tied to it (which is pretty much anything and everything, apparently). You've seen them protesting the funerals of soldiers and firefighters and thanking their god for everything from 9/11 to cancer. Most recently they've targeted Taylor Swift (for being a whore and a fornicator, according to their "picket schedule").
So why, you might ask, am I grateful for the WBC's existence? Well, it's like this.
Remember when Tina Fey started doing her dead-on Sarah Palin impressions on SNL, often using Governor Palin's own words (which were better than anything any comedy writers could have crafted) in the sketches? Many would argue, myself included, that Fey's ability to humorously and accurately highlight Palin's gaffes during the 2008 presidential campaign, week after week, ultimately moved the needle in favor of the Obama campaign. Not that Tina Fey cost McCain the election, but those sketches certainly didn't hurt the campaign of his opponent.
By the same token, the very visible presence of the WBC in the media, with their venomous hate speak and ludicrously offensive signage have, in my opinion, done the gay rights movement a tremendous favor in putting a face on the ugly ignorance of homophobia and bigotry. Their wild, deranged claims that virtually any and every tragedy in the world is a punishment by their god for the tolerance of same-sex couples in our culture simply serve, in an exaggerated fashion, to show how cruel, ignorant and unreasonable homophobia truly is. Even the most virulent of anti-gay critics, the Pat Robertsons and the Bishop Eddie Longs, refuse to touch the WBC with a 10-foot pole.
The Westboro Baptist Church has made it embarrassing to be homophobic. And for that I thank them.
I am encouraged by the Supreme Court ruling, and am hopeful that the end of DOMA proves to create a domino effect that results in same sex marriage becoming simply "marriage," with all of its rights and benefits. I am also encouraged by the ex-gay group Exodus International closing its doors and apologizing to gays for the "pain and hurt" they caused.
For me, 2013 is shaping up to be a year of progress and healing, which makes me hopeful as the mother of a young child. I would love nothing more than for my 18-month-old daughter to grow up in a world where discrimination against gay people is as head-scratchingly, shamefully archaic as the old anti-miscegenation laws. And for the first time in my lifetime, I feel that this may actually be possible.