Some gasped and some laughed when Ellen Craswell told a Seattle audience this week that homosexuality “cuts 35 years off your life.”
The Republican gubernatorial candidate drew snickers when she told a high school crowd here last month that she has a friend “who spent eight years as a lesbian. She thought she couldn’t change because she was told she couldn’t by other lesbians. She is very grateful that she came out now and is living a normal life.”
The Christian conservative candidate’s unabashed views on homosexuality have horrified and frightened many, who say she is using false information to stir up anti-gay sentiment.
But others find cause for celebration that their anti-homosexual message, part of the political landscape for years, is now coming from the mouth of the Republican nominee for governor, whose utterances are broadcast and printed statewide.
“My gut response is that it is just astonishing that a candidate for governor cites as fact the fiction that gay people have a life expectancy that is 35 years less than it would be if they weren’t gay. It’s scary that she would be willing to tell the public something so untrue and something not supported by any scientifically credible information,” said Jan Bianchi, the executive director of Hands Off Washington, a gay-rights organization.
“I’m delighted that she is speaking out so clearly, and so are the folks who are members and supporters of our organization,” said Bob Larimer, executive director of Washington for Traditional Values, an anti-gay group based in Vancouver.
Whatever their reaction, voters following Craswell’s uphill struggle to defeat Democrat Gary Locke are getting a fresh and high-profile look at a debate that until now has been confined to legislative fights and initiative campaigns for or against gay rights.
Locke is a loud champion of gay rights. He co-sponsored unsuccessful state legislation to win civil-rights protections for gays and lesbians. And, unlike President Clinton, he also supports same-sex marriage. As governor, he says, he would sign a measure legalizing such unions if one ever reached his desk.
“We should be encouraging stable, healthy relationships. We need to encourage that whether heterosexual or homosexual,” Locke said to loud cheers and applause at an appearance with Craswell at Capital High School in Olympia in September.
He also was quick to repudiate Craswell’s anti-homosexual statements during a live televised debate in Seattle on Wednesday, saying gays and lesbians are a rich and valuable part of society’s fabric.
Larimer said conservatives also are delighted that Locke is “being shown for what he is, somebody who thinks there should be special programs for homosexuals paid by taxpayers.”
Bianchi said there is some value in elevating the gay-rights debate to the level of a gubernatorial race, where people can get a clearer-than-usual look at the issue.
But she and other gay-rights activists also worried that many voters might get distorted information that is never corrected and that hatreds could be inflamed.
Craswell’s assertion that homosexuals shorten their lives by 35 years is a case in point, she said.
Craswell’s information comes from a published article by Paul Cameron, a man well-known for his anti-homosexual views, Bianchi notes. The 1994 article has since been knocked down by other researchers who say all Cameron showed was that men who contract HIV stand to die young, something nobody denies.
“Cameron has been discredited by every scholarly association,” Bianchi, a Seattle lawyer, said. “For a candidate for governor to be citing this man as a source, that’s just plain unethical to me.”
Kathy Mears, Craswell’s press spokeswoman, said the candidate can hardly be called unethical in the way she approaches the issue of homosexuality.
“Ellen has always been consistent and open on this issue,” as a legislator for 16 years and now as a candidate for governor, Mears said. “She had no reason to doubt” the veracity of Cameron’s study, she said.
Larimer contended gay-rights activists “can’t stand it when we stand up against them. This would not be an issue if it wasn’t for a group of people trying to push their private practices into public policy. What choice does that leave conservatives?”
David Morden, the administrator of Hands Off Washington and the Privacy Fund, said Craswell could choose to practice what she preaches.
“This is a woman who claims to be Christian, but uses false statistics and information to abuse a portion of our population. She takes AIDS statistics and applies them to the whole gay and lesbian population. What she should be saying is that these AIDS statistics are tragic, a portion of our society is dying and we should be doing something about it,” he said.