Mitt Romney — who at an earlier point in his career had promised to advance the equality of gay and lesbian people — is scheduled to deliver the Commencement address at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University on May 12, an Evangelical Christian college that refuses to recognize people or ideas that don’t adhere to its social conservative worldview.
The university — founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell in 1971 — seeks to impress on its students a “commitment to the Christian life” that “leads people to Jesus Christ as the Lord of the universe and their own personal Savior” and forbids openly gay enrollees. Students are required to abide by a strict Code of Conduct, which prohibits them from engaging in “[n]on-marital sexual relations,” drinking, smoking, watching R-rated movies, dancing, cursing or hugging for longer than three seconds. In 2009, the school attracted controversy after it revoked its recognition of a Democratic club, because “[t]he Democratic Party platform is contrary to the mission of Liberty University and to Christian doctrine.” The school condemned the party for supporting abortion rights, “same-sex marriage, hate crimes, LGBT rights, and socialism.”
To that end, Liberty is heavily invested in the anti-gay and ex-gay movement. The school withdrew from the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2010 to protest the inclusion of a gay rights group and hosted a one-day symposium to address the consequences of being gay. The event offered sessions on “[u]nderstanding Same-sex Attractions and Their Consequences” and “Homosexual Rights and First Amendment Freedoms: Can They Truly Coexist?” Liberty University law professors Matt Barber and Judith Reisman have also linked gay and lesbian rights to “the pedophile movement,” while the school’s affiliates describe marriage equality as a “rebellion against God” and claim that gay people are more likely to commit suicide because they know “what they are doing is unnatural, is wrong, [and] is immoral.”
Significantly, this isn’t the first time Romney has embraced conservative Christian Evangelicals in an effort to endear himself to Republican voters. In 2007, he addressed Regent University, the school founded by televangelist Pat Robertson.