300 protest Sally Kern's anti-gay remarks at state Capitol

Oklahoma City_An Oklahoma lawmaker rejected demands by gay and lesbian groups on Tuesday that she apologize for anti-gay remarks in which she said homosexuality poses a bigger threat to the U.S. than terrorism.

"I see no reason to apologize for what God says, that homosexuality is a sin," Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, said after 300 people rallied at the state Capitol and called for an end to hate speech.

"I will not apologize. I did not say anything false. I did not say anything malicious or hateful," Kern said. "They are trying to vilify me. That is their tactics."

Spokespersons for gay and lesbian groups demanded that Kern apologize while calling on the Legislature to adopt hate crimes legislation that would enhance penalties for crimes directed at gays and lesbians.

"Hateful speech leads to hate crimes," said Rob Howard, executive director of the Cimarron Alliance Foundation in Oklahoma City. Howard said there were more than 7,700 hate crimes in the nation in 2006, including 79 in Oklahoma.

Howard and other speakers questioned how Kern can take an oath to uphold the state Constitution but then condemn a segment of the state's population.

"Freedom of speech does not belong to Representative Kern alone," said Howard, adding that gay and lesbian groups have a "moral imperative" to speak out against her remarks.

"If we do not condemn hate speech from an elected public official, we in effect endorse it," said the Rev. Robin Meyers, pastor of the Mayflower United Church of Christ in Oklahoma City. "This represents the state of Oklahoma in a way that is deeply offensive."

Members of the group had planned to invite Kern to the noon rally but were told she had already left the Capitol. No state lawmaker attended the rally.

Kern said she was pleased that gay and lesbian groups expressed their views.

"That's great they came to the Capitol. This is a free country. They're exercising their First Amendment right," Kern said.

But she said she was not interested in speaking to members of the group. She said she has received more than 30,000 e-mails about her comments, including some threatening ones, and that an activist had tried to intimidate her husband, a Baptist minister, by showing up at his church on Sunday.

"They're sending out letters and making calls in my district. And they really want me to come down and talk to them?" Kern said. "It would be like throwing myself to the lions. That's a metaphor.

"When I am wrong, and it is brought to my attention, I will apologize."

Kern's remarks gained nationwide attention after they were recorded and posted on the video sharing Web site YouTube by the Washington, D.C.-based Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund earlier this month.

"Studies show no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted more than a few decades," Kern says in the recorded comments. "It is not a lifestyle that is good for this nation."

A former teacher, Kern also said gays are teaching young public school children that their lifestyle is acceptable.

"We're not teaching facts and knowledge anymore. We're teaching indoctrination," Kern said. "They are going after our young children, as young as two years of age, to try to teach them that the homosexual lifestyle is an acceptable lifestyle.

"This stuff is deadly and it's spreading and it will destroy our young people, it will destroy this nation."

Gay and lesbian groups called for an end to the anti-gay rhetoric.

"This kind of bigotry has lasted too long," said the Rev. Loyce Newton-Edwards, president of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays in Oklahoma City. "We're willing to stand up and say: 'No more."'

The Rev. James Shields, a retired United Methodist Church minister who lives in Kern's western Oklahoma City district, said her remarks have more to do with a religious doctrine than her duties in the Legislature.

"I think her rhetoric in her speaking got her into a lot of trouble. I think her fears got her into a lot of trouble," Shields said.

"Representative Kern has made a number of statements that are fearful, that are lacking in tolerance and that are too emotional for rational public discussion," he said. "It is OK to be afraid of terrorists. All of use are. It is not OK to be afraid of gay people. Most of us are not."

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