May 14th, 2012
03:09 PM ET
By Becky Perlow, CNN
Washington (CNN) – You may disagree with it, but you shouldn’t make fun of it.
That’s what conservative Family Research Council president Tony Perkins told CBS’s "Face the Nation" on Sunday about U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s arguably derogatory use of the term “gay.”
“The president, you know, recently weighed in on marriage,” Paul, a Kentucky Republican, remarked to the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, a conservative group, on Friday. “And, you know, he said that his views were evolving on marriage. And call me cynical, but I wasn’t sure that his views on marriage could get any gayer.”
The audience burst into a laughter that echoed all the way to the Sunday talk show tables, where opposing sides weighed in, from gay rights activist and singer Clay Aiken to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.
But Perkins’criticism of Paul’s comments was noteworthy because Perkins is one of the nation’s best-known opponents of same-sex marriage and of gay rights more broadly.
Condemning Paul’s remarks on Sunday, Perkins said the debate over homosexuality and same-sex marriage is not “a laughing matter.”
“I don’t think this is something we should joke about,” Perkins said on "Face the Nation." “We are talking about individuals who feel very strongly one way or the other, and I think we should be civil, respectful, allowing all sides to have the debate.”
While Perkins’ comments caught many by surprise, Aaron McQuade, director of news and field media for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said he doesn’t believe Perkins was defending the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
“I think he was saying that he takes this issue so seriously that it’s not okay to make light of it, even if you also oppose it the way he does,” McQuade said in a phone interview.
“This is not a man who represents the 40-whatever percent of the country that does not support marriage equality,” McQuade said. “This is a man who represents a tiny, tiny, fraction of Americans who believes, as he does, that gay people have an emptiness within them. That they are abnormal.”
The Family Research Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.
McQuade also said it was hard to tell what Paul meant by using the word “gayer.” “If that same comment was made by someone with a more pro-LGBT history, it likely would not be taken negatively,” he said.
On CNN’s "State of the Union" on Sunday, Perkins told chief political correspondent Candy Crowley that opposition to same-sex marriage shouldn’t be the “central point” of presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign. But Perkins also admitted frustration with Capitol Hill Republicans who are portraying the issue as a political distraction.
“Defending the family, the cornerstone of civilization, is not a distraction,” he said, while stressing that the economy and jobs are also key issues in this election. “It should be a priority, and it should be a part of what Mitt Romney talks about.”
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