The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has been classified as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and ABC News included that detail when reporting on Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ speech to the group earlier this week. Now ADF wants an apology, and Fox News, which framed the group as a “civil liberties organization,” thinks they deserve it.
Kerri Kupec, legal counsel at ADF, took to Fox News Friday morning to complain about the label. “What ABC did was essentially cut and paste a smear campaign from a radically left-wing violence-inciting organization called the Southern Poverty Law Center, and put it out as fact in a headline,” she said. “When in fact, we’re one of the most respected Supreme Court practices in the country.”
Unfortunately for Kupec, the two are not mutually exclusive.
She’s not wrong that ADF has been engaged in Supreme Court litigation for some time. For example, back in 2003, ADF attorneys wrote not one but two different amicus briefs supporting Texas in the case Lawrence v. Texas. This was the case in which the Supreme Court ultimately overturned sodomy laws, but ADF was advocating that homosexuality remain criminalized. “Contrary to what’s been reported in the mainstream news media,” attorney Jordan Lorence said at the time, “there is a lot of opposition to the cultural drift toward condoning same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage.”
In one brief, ADF attorney Glen Lavy argued that because “same-sex sodomy is an efficient method of transmitting STDs” — “far more effective in spreading STDs than opposite-sex sodomy” — it is thus “reasonable to believe that same-sex sodomy is a distinct public health problem.” The brief detailed the supposed preponderance of anal incontinence and “gay bowel syndrome,” emphasized the virulence of HIV, and concluded that banning consensual gay sex is in the interest of public health.
Lavy still serves as ADF’s corporate counsel.
In the other brief, Lorence, Joshua Carden, and Michael P. Farris wrote that “the history of this country reflects a deep conviction that sodomy is criminally punishable conduct and not a constitutionally protected activity.” Texas’ law banning sodomy “is grounded on a moral judgment,” they wrote, and the Supreme Court should not interfere with “an issue that belongs in the state legislatures.” The brief went on to compare consensual gay sex to adultery, prostitution, polygamy, and fornication — private acts between consulting adults that have similarly been regulated. Texas’ decision that same-sex sodomy is “immoral” is “absolutely consistent with the time-honored traditions of this nation,” they wrote.
Carden is no longer on the staff at ADF, but he still identifies as an ADF “allied attorney.” Lorence still serves as senior counsel for ADF. Farris was not affiliated with ADF back in 2003, but was named president and CEO of ADF in early 2017.
Lawrence may have been 14 years ago, but ADF hasn’t really changed. One of the primary reasons the SPLC classified it as an anti-LGBTQ hate group is that it still continues to advocate for sodomy laws in other countries. For example, when the Supreme Court of India upheld that country’s sodomy law in 2013, Benjamin Bull, executive director of ADF Global, praised the Court for doing “the right thing” and choosing to “protect society.”
From 2012 to 2014, ADF offered a media kit which provided language conservatives could use to demonize LGBTQ people:
- gay rights = “homosexual agenda”
- transgender = “cross-dressing” and “sexually confused”
- inclusive sex education = “sexual indoctrination programs”
- equal rights = “special legal protections, privileged class”
- always use scare quotes when referring to same-sex “marriage.”
And ADF’s current case load speaks to a determined effort to allow for discrimination against LGBTQ people.
Most of the wedding vendors under fire for refusing service to same-sex couples have been represented by ADF, including the New Mexico photographer, the Washington florist, and the Colorado baker whose case is now headed to the Supreme Court.
ADF has also filed a number of preemptive suits attempting to overturn LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections on behalf of businesses who want to be able to refuse service to same-sex couples, including a pair of calligraphers in Phoenix, a Colorado website designer, and a pair of video producers in Minnesota.
During the Fox News interview, Kupec defended ADF’s role in these cases, saying the organization is simply advocating for “people of faith freely and peacefully live out their conscience and their faith without threat of government punishment.” She insisted, falsely, that their clients “serve everyone” but shouldn’t “be compelled by the government to create custom design or art for all events asked of them.”
ADF has also been at the forefront of advocating against transgender inclusion in schools and public spaces. They’ve helped draft anti-trans “bathroom bills” legislation in states across the country, and their lawyers have been involved in cases defending those laws, defending schools that want to discriminate, and filing suits against schools on behalf of parents who object to trans-inclusive policies. They even peddle a model policy for schools that outlines how to discriminate against transgender students.
Tellingly, when there was public outcry that Sessions’ remarks to the group were not made publicly available, ADF arranged to have them published at The Federalist, a site that runs screeds attacking homosexuality and transgender people on nearly a daily basis. The Federalist has likewise already come to ADF’s defense — twice — in response to ABC including the “hate group” label in its story.
Kupek is right about one thing, which is that ADF does participate in cases that don’t have anything to do with LGBTQ people or issues. But that doesn’t mean that the “hate group” label doesn’t fit. Indeed, when the top law enforcement official in the country is speaking to the group and telling them exactly what they want to hear, it’s very much essential.