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.
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?