Ohio Equality announced recently that a state freedom-to-marry coalition will seek petition signatures for a constitutional amendment that would not only reverse the state’s 2004 ban against marriage for same-sex couples, but also legalize equal marriage with an exemption for churches.

Last week, former Exodus International board member and veteran antigay activist Phil Burress responded — telling the Columbus Dispatch that Ohio’s antigay and ex-gay movements will not only topple the pro-equal-marriage amendment, but also “kiss Obama goodbye.”

Phil Burress is not engaging in idle bluster: What Burress wants, he often gets.

His Citizens for Community Values is largely responsible for the original 2004 ban. In 2008, CCV shared some credit for John McCain’s transformation from political maverick into an ally of the Christian Right. And back in 1998, CCV co-sponsored the “Truth in Love” national TV- and newspaper-ad campaign, in which Exodus activists boasted that they had prayed away the gay (and you can, too!). CCV acknowledges that a coalition called the “National Pro-Family Forum on Homosexuality” intended the ex-gay ad campaign to reinforce efforts to deny marriage to gay couples:

 National Pro-Family Forum on Homosexuality – This group includes representatives from most of the national pro-family organizations and meets every three months, usually in Washington, D.C. The group’s first organized effort was the National Campaign to Protect Marriage that mobilized national and local pro-family leaders in all 50 states to work together to defend traditional “one man-one woman” marriage. However, their major achievement has been The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and other similar laws that were passed in 36 states since 1996. Another major achievement of this forum was the “Truth in Love” full-page ad and campaign printed in many major newspapers and on TV.

On its web site, CCV boasts of its cooperative affiliation with two organizations, the American Family Association and Family Research Council, that have been identified as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Cetner. CCV is also affiliated with the social-conservative might of Focus on the Family. And CCV promotes numerous Ohio social-conservative organizations, including state affiliates of Exodus International.

As it has needed broad coalition-based support before, CCV will need the support of these endorsees now to achieve victory. Here are a few of the local Exodus affiliates that stand to gain from supporting CCV and thwarting the families of Ohio sexual minorities: 

  • Prodigal Ministries, Cincinnati: Led by Exodus board member Jerry Armelli, this ministry’s web site is up-front about its philosophy, which rejects scientific evidence of genetic or biochemical contribution to sexual orientation; suggests that unsuccessful ex-gays don’t pray hard enough since “with Jesus anything is possible”; and implies that no person with same-gender attraction necessarily has rights, other than the “right and freedom to choose and to receive support from Prodigal Ministries and other believers.” Prodigal says that it treats more than 550 people per year, but more importantly, it arms the state’s antigay clergy and counselors with antigay propaganda for political purposes.
  • Grace Christian & Missionary Alliance Church, Middleburg Heights: Grace Church is a large and prosperous church whose ex-gay ministry appears to skip over LGBT people and ex-gay “strugglers,” and target their parents and peers instead. That “support” group, named “Hope for the Captives,” seems to cast the antigay families and friends of LGBT people as victims: “What one does with (sexual) feelings can lead to sinful practice and a broken relationship with God, family and friends.” Within the space of one paragraph, Grace Church says, “We cannot change others, or solve their problems” — but then calls upon participants to believe that they have been changed by the Holy Spirit, and concludes: “We will then be prepared to share that same power of love and transformation with those we love as the Lord leads us.” In other words, are they saying, “We don’t change people; God makes us do it”?
  • Bridge of Hope, Columbus: BOH is a “support” group which stigmatizes same-sex attraction as “unwanted” and “broken,” and whose resources accuse parents and modern societal gender roles of causing homosexuality. The effect of BOH is to emotionally disable individuals and families who might otherwise fight the antifamily bigotry of the ex-gay industry.
  • Bridge of Hope Church, Boardman; Victory in Truth Ministries, Bucyrus; and Vineyard Columbus, Westerville: These three substantial churches, despite their affiliation with Exodus International, offer no apparent online resources for ex-gays referred by Exodus.” It’s interesting that these churches keep their Exodus affiliation in the closet.
  • The Chapel: This group of three northeast Ohio churches operates two ex-gay counseling groups: Bonds of Iron (for men) and Genesis. Bonds of Iron perpetuates the myth, rejected by mainstream mental-health professionals and a couple decades of research, that distant fathers cause male homosexuality, and that homosexual acts are a broken means of repairing one’s deficient “masculinity.” The Chapel directs “overcomers” to study the work of ex-gay think-tank NARTH.
  • The Way Out, Columbiana: This ministry’s home page promotes the stereotype that LGBT people are promiscuous, HIV-positive drug addicts. The organization hosts meetings for both aspiring ex-gays and antigay spouses, family members, and friends. Such ministries to antigay family members are a key strategic tactic of the Family Research Council, Focus, and FRC-affiliated Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays, which have used these groups to rally antigay voters during past election cycles.
  • New Pathways, Springfield: Led by Dr. Elton Moose, “an NCCA licensed Clinical Pastoral Counselor and Certified Sexual Therapist,” this group claims to offer support-seekers the “latest research.” But its only online resources are two old essays by Moose, both last updated in 2006, which provide no evidence of orientation change. Instead, one essay attacks the character of researcher Alfred Kinsey and misquotes another researcher, Dr. Robert Spitzer. Moose’s sole cited source of research is a 2004 booklet criticizing Alfred Kinsey, written by a non-scholar, Christian conservative author Susan Brinkmann. The NCCA is the National Christian Counselors Association, and its licenses — the organization says — insulate non-professional and religiously biased counselors from the secular ethical standards and patient safeguards that guide state-licensed counselors.

All these ministries comprise an industry whose annual income is derived from the destruction of healthy gay and lesbian relationships and the erosion of self-esteem and self-respect. Without harsh antigay laws — accompanied by persecution from school, family, and church — sexual minorities and families would have little reason to seek “help” from these churches in the first place.

Will these churches — and thousands of others in Ohio — unite again to smear the LGBT families next door in the name of “community values”? Count on it.

Will Ohio’s pro-equality churches step up to the plate, support Ohio Equality and the Freedom to Marry Coalition, and fight back against those who inflict bigotry in God’s name? That remains to be seen.

Footnote: Three years after he involved Exodus International in efforts to launch Uganda’s present kill-the-gays legislation, Don Schmierer remains Exodus board member and treasurer.