1995: Rise of the Religious Right

The Story: “On Strings and a Prayer,” issue of July 6, 1995

Issue 3 was a painful blot on Cincinnati’s civic psyche, marking the city’s official anti-gay stance for 11 long years. When City Council dared to add “sexual orientation” to a list of protected traits and practices in its 1992 Human Right Ordinance, local religious zealots sprang into action with Issue 3, a ballot initiative to ban Council from enacting any laws granting minority or protected status to gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

City voters passed Issue 3 in 1993 by 62-38 percent. Little did we know at the time that the supposedly local debate was actually a key early victory in the religious right’s national political ascension.

Hans Johnson’s cover story exposed the scope of outside groups’ influence on the passage of Issue 3 and their subsequent use of Cincinnati campaign tactics and messages in anti-gay elections across the United States. A “who’s who” of rightwing leaders — relatively unknown here in the early ’90s — funneled more than $400,000 in cash and campaign materials to pro-Issue 3 locals: Focus on the Family, Colorado for Family Values, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Donald Wildmon, Lou Sheldon, etc.

The local face for their campaign was Phil Burress, leader of the anti-gay, anti-porn, anti-abortion Citizens for Community Values (CCV) in Sharonville. Burress solicited support from African-American ministers across town to cynically raise fears that blacks would somehow lose some of their hard-won civil rights if gays were guaranteed their own civil rights.

The political fortunes of Burress and his ilk rose quickly after Issue 3, culminating in the passage of anti-gay marriage laws across the country in the 2000s, including in Ohio and Kentucky.

Excerpt:

“Besides touting Issue 3 as a success story, national religious right groups that backed the campaign have embarked on plans to emulate aspects of the Cincinnati drive in other settings. The American Family Association … is now promoting what it calls ‘Operation Spotlight,’ a blueprint lifted from the Issue 3 battle plan.

“(Their) ambitious strategy is to dilute black voting strength by using African-American spokespeople in campaigns to repeal non-discrimination protections for gay people and to elect anti-gay candidates to city council seats.

“ ‘A key ingredient to victory is winning the Black vote,’ Burress wrote in a post-Issue 3 position paper. ‘Even with a Black spokesperson, the Black vote was split evenly, which was our goal.’ ”

Today:

Time heals all wounds, they say. Issue 3 created a new statute in Cincinnati’s city charter, Article 12, which was finally repealed by city voters in 2004. Burress threatened to reintroduce anti-gay legislation but never did.

Today, that generation of hate-mongers and religious zealots is on the run. A majority of states now allow gay marriage, and it’s only a matter of time before the federal government — through legislation or a Supreme Court ruling — fully legalizes gay marriage.

CCV is barely active these days, wallowing in the realization that they don’t represent Cincinnati’s values any longer … if they ever really did.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles
Join the CityBeat Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.

Newsletters

Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.