Fred Phelps’ Death Won’t End Anti-Gay Hate, But Luckily the Tide Is Already Changing
Being a Kansas native and general supporter of progressive causes, my social media platforms are a-buzz with news of Fred Phelps’ impending demise. That’s right. THE Fred Phelps of the homophobic, funeral-picketing Westboro Baptist Church.
The church spokesperson hasn’t confirmed anything, but Nathan Phelps, the elder Phelps’ estranged son, made a statement on Facebook:
I’ve learned that my father, Fred Phelps, Sr., pastor of the “God Hates Fags” Westboro Baptist Church, was ex-communicated from the “church” back in August of 2013. He is now on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas.
I’m not sure how I feel about this. Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made.
I feel sad for all the hurt he’s caused so many. I feel sad for those who will lose the grandfather and father they loved. And I’m bitterly angry that my family is blocking the family members who left from seeing him, and saying their good-byes.
When it all came out, my Facebook feed kind of exploded with suppressed glee. Or at least ambivalence. Which is understandable. Fred Phelps and the WBC has become a symbol of pure hate and a point of embarrassment for Kansas progressives. And it’s not as if the WBC will go away when Fred Phelps dies. Nothing will really change.
However, even if the death of an 80-year-old man isn’t exactly groundbreaking news, the death of avowed homophobes is notable. It serves as a reminder that things are, indeed, changing.
Despite the impression that prominent members of the Republican party make, support for LGBT rights isn’t just the domain of the political left anymore, especially among the young. A recent Pew poll bears that out.
Democrats are still way more likely to support same-sex marriage. Seventy-seven percent of Democrats 18-29 support marriage equality, but it’s also high for the 65+ set; in that case, support dips but is around 62 percent. Republican support for marriage equality is predictably weaker. Of Republicans 65 and older, only 22 percent support marriage equality. But, among 18-29-year-olds, that support jumps to 61 percent. That is also much higher than the Republican party as a whole. And it’s not just marriage equality. According to the Pew Research Center:
The relative liberalism of young Republicans on issues of homosexuality goes beyond their support for gay marriage. Just 18% of Republicans under 30 say “more gay and lesbian couples raising children” is a bad thing for American society, while 26% say it is a good thing (56% either say it doesn’t make a difference or they don’t know). By comparison, majorities or pluralities of older Republicans say this trend is a bad thing for society.
This isn’t really something we didn’t already know. We know that, generally, young people are more supportive of marriage equality than older people. But this is a party that a decade ago thought that a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality was a political winner. Now it’s becoming clear that the future of the Republican party will be gay-friendly, at least relative to what it is today.
As callus as it may be, this is what I think of when I hear of the ill-health of powerful homophobes. Anti-LGBT bigotry is still a real problem, but the generation gap on this issue is also a real reason to hope for a better future.
Photo Credit: Stephen Luke via Flickr