In mid-January, the Associated Press published a report on the controversy currently brewing between America's religious right and families headed by gay parents. The issue? Whose children should be allowed to participate in the White House's annual Easter Egg Roll this April? The Family Pride Coalition invited its members to attend and numerous religious fundamentalist groups sprang into action. Even the White House has weighed in.
“Will the president take any measures to prevent these activists from using this non-political event as a way to push their agenda on the rest of us?” White House spokesman Scott McClellan's response to the pool reporter's question included, “I've seen a couple of reports about it; I don't know how extensive that reporting has been. But this has been a family event for a long time and the president always looks forward to this event. We'll talk about it as we get closer.”
Spearheading the rhetoric from the right are the Family Research Council and the Institute on Religion and Democracy, both religious “think tanks.” The latter considers the organizing of gay-led families as an effort to “exploit a children's event for political purposes.” The Family Pride Coalition calls the gathering “participating in the many great traditions of our country.”
No doubt, the issue is political. But then, gay parents and their children simply going out in public as a family on any day might be considered political in today's environment of cultural “values” warfare.
Whether manifested as legislative bills seeking to outlaw gay marriage, summer camps aimed at “curing” homosexuality, or letter-writing campaigns rallying to rid the airwaves of positive portrayals of gays, the religious fundamentalists’ efforts to define American morality are in full swing.
In reality, families come in every different shape and size. The traditional nuclear family is in the minority in the U.S. Some kids are raised by primarily one parent and others have complex configurations of multiple step-parents. Many gay people are choosing to start their own families by raising children, resulting in what has been called a “gayby boom.” As their children grow up, people who do not have experiences seeing such family configurations will have a choice: expand their definition of family or insist that these parents and children simply “do not qualify.”
Opinions are changing quickly as more and more gay people “come out” to their friends and families. According to a poll conducted in 2001 by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 73% of the U.S. general population knows somebody who is gay, lesbian or bisexual. The same poll reports that approximately three-quarters of the general public support laws to protect gays and lesbians from prejudice and discrimination in employment and housing. They also overwhelmingly support inheritance, health insurance and social security benefits for same-sex partners.
Rutherford B. Hayes was the first president to invite children to spend the morning playing Easter games on the White House lawn. First ladies have added personal touches over the years. Lou Hoover added maypole dances. Eleanor Roosevelt greeted the nation via radio from the event in 1933. Pat Nixon introduced the tradition of a White House staffer dressing up as the Easter Bunny. It was under her watch that spoons used in the egg roll race were borrowed from the White House kitchen!
Since 1878, the event has grown tremendously. With 16,000 tickets issued last year, the White House considers it to be its largest public celebration. It has been restricted only in times of war and inclement weather.
Some have suggested that our current President might cancel the Easter event or attempt to “de-gay” it by restricting attendance to military families, as he did in 2003. Let's hope that he does not politicize the event to serve the very narrow, but vocal faction of his political base.
I am not surprised to see religious fundamentalist organizations shift into overdrive, organizing to exclude gay families from the event. If, however, the White House joins them in their effort, it will show just how embedded these interests are in the current administration. Often called, “the people's house,” the White House is the ultimate expression of the ideals of our government, the legacy of our struggle for independence and liberty. If gay families are not equally welcome there, the ominous message will resonate far beyond that part of the American family.
John Crabtree-Ireland lives in Los Angeles. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Articles by John Crabtree-Ireland
* White House website, “History of the Easter Egg Roll.”
* MSNBC website, “Gay families to join White House Easter event,” AP News, January 20, 2006.
* World Net Daily
Wait and see on 'gay' egg roll crashers,”
January 18, 2006.