Washington, 13 August 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Several American religious leaders say homosexuality is sinful, immoral and repugnant, but that homosexuals can be, as they put it, "saved" from their lifestyles by turning to God.
A group of religious leaders, representing Protestant, Catholic and Jewish faiths, issued the statement yesterday at a press conference in Washington. The conference was sponsored by the Family Research Council, a nonprofit organization which promotes the family unit and the Judeo-Christian value system.
The issue of homosexuality has been on the minds of many Americans in recent days due to efforts by conservative political groups such as the Family Research Council and the Christian Coalition, which have been co-sponsoring a national campaign against homosexuality featuring ex-gays who have been, in their own words, "reformed by God."
The campaign includes print and television advertisements featuring couples who were formerly homosexual, but are now converted and married. The couples say they have been cured of their homosexuality through religion and therapy.
The advertisements surfaced just as a political battle erupted in the U.S. Congress over legislation that would deny federal funds to any city that requires contractors to provide family health benefits to same-sex partners.
During that battle, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said homosexuality was immoral and equated it with disorders such as kleptomania, a compulsive need to steal, and alcoholism.
In response, Michael McCurry, the spokesman for U.S. President Bill Clinton, said that viewing homosexuality as immoral is "backward thinking."
But Steve Schwalm, a policy analyst for the Family Research Council, told reporters that the purpose of the press conference was not to issue inflammatory statements against homosexuals nor to enter a political debate, but to show that homosexuality is a conscious behavior that can cured through faith in God and marriage.
Says Schwalm: "Marriage is the binding, faithful and fruitful sexual union between a man and a woman. It is the only proper and healthy sphere for expressing our sexuality. The family, as designed by nature and understood by tradition, is the most basic elemental, essential unit of society. Our freedoms, our nation, and our civilization, depend on it."
The Reverend Jerome McFarland, a Protestant minister in Washington, says that for too many years, homosexuality has been blamed on everything from birth to human preference. But he says the Bible has been consistent on its view of the subject and considers homosexuality a deadly sin.
Says McFarland: "The Bible is clear in its teaching that the practice of homosexual lifestyle is sin. It is evil, it is wrong, indecent, detestable, abominable and contrary to the express will of God.... But God can help the homosexual. God offers help to the homosexual through personal faith."
The Reverend Thomas Morrow, a Roman Catholic priest who counsels homosexuals in Washington, told reporters that while homosexuality was a "deviant lifestyle," those who choose to follow that path must still be met with respect, compassion and sensitivity.
However, Morrow says homosexuals should still be encouraged to reform their lifestyles and are not entitled to any special preference under the law. Morrow says the Catholic Church strongly believes that sexual orientation must not be equated with race or ethnicity. Therefore, Morrow says any attempt by homosexuals to gain acceptance and special protection under U.S. law should be opposed both by the church and religious believers.
Explains Morrow: "Legislation protecting homosexual persons becomes protection of behavior or a point of view. This is quite different from laws which prevent discrimination based on race, sex or age."
Morrow also says that the Catholic Church believes it is not "unjust discrimination" to take sexual orientation into account in the placement of children for adoption or foster care, in the employment of teachers or athletic coaches, and in military recruitment.
But gay and lesbian rights organizations have a different view.
Tracey Conaty, the communications director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, told RFE/RL that the statements and advertisements condemning homosexuality and offering a cure to such a lifestyle are not just religiously motivated, but are a concerted political effort by conservatives to deny gays and lesbians basic civil rights.
Conaty contends: "It is a very coordinated attack against gays and lesbians. It is clear that scapegoating gay and lesbian people is a tactic that is currently acceptable now in the same way that targeting communists in the Red Scare of the 1950s was acceptable back then."
Conaty says she is also disturbed by the claim that God and religion is a "cure" for homosexuals. She says many gay and lesbian people are already deeply religious and their religious values and beliefs are not in conflict with their sexual orientation.
"There is nothing wrong with being gay or lesbian, nor is there anything to cure," she says.
Supporting Conaty's view are the American Psychiatric and Psychological Associations, which determined in the 1970s that homosexuality is not a mental disorder.
Last year, the American Psychological Association went even further, declaring reparative therapy -- or therapy to help homosexuals change their sexual orientation -- to be scientifically and medically unsound as well as potentially harmful.