House Speaker-elect Mike Johnson of Louisiana spent years fighting against gay rights before joining Congress after the 2016 election.
Before becoming speaker on Wednesday, Oct. 25, Mr. Johnson was relatively unknown in Congress as vice chairman of the Republican conference, so much so that some other members of Congress had to Google him after his ascension.
An evangelical anti-abortion Christian and a lawyer who has supported creationist projects, Mr. Johnson's record on gay rights is a stark contrast. He has pointed to his faith as the source of his beliefs.
His anti-LGBT+ activism and work included restrictions on same-sex marriage and access to health care services, as well as anti-gay college activism.
More than a decade and a half ago, he was a lawyer and spokesman for the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which supports Christians. During that time, he described homosexuals as “sinful” and “disastrous” and argued that support for gay rights could lead to support for pedophilia, a longstanding anti-gay trope. In opinion pieces, he has argued that gay sex should be criminalized, ABC News notes.
In 2003, Mr. Johnson wrote in a column on The Shreveport Times: “There is no clear “right to sodomy” in the Constitution, and the right to “home privacy” has never placed all domestic activity outside the bounds of the criminal law.”
“If someone is trapped in a homosexual lifestyle, it is dangerous”
During the Day of Silence protests across the US in 2005 organized to push back against anti-gay bias in education, Mr Johnson and the ADF launched a counter-protest they called “Day of Truth”.
Mr Johnson claimed at the time that they were “sharing the truth out of love and compassion”. He said the “truth” comes from a strict view of the Bible's teachings, meaning that “if someone is caught up in a homosexual lifestyle, it's dangerous,” according to ABC.
At the counter-protest, ADF handed out T-shirts reading ‘Truth Cannot Be Silenced' as well as cards to students, sharing their view that they could not support ‘harmful personal and social behaviour' about being LGBT+.
“You can call it sinful or destructive, in the end it is both”
Mike Johnson addresses Congress for the first time as Speaker of the House
Mr. Johnson said at the time that he hoped the event would be “peaceful and respectful,” but also said, “You can call it sinful or destructive, in the end it's both,” the Associated Press wrote in April 2005.
The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network accused the ADF and Mr Johnson of targeting gay students. Johnson told the press: “No one is in favor of bullying and harassment. But that hides their real message, that homosexuality is good for society.”
He also argued that being gay was “morally wrong and physically dangerous”.
Before joining Congress, Mr. Johnson was a talk radio host, columnist, college professor, and constitutional law seminar instructor. He also spent two years in the Louisiana state legislature.
Elected in 2016 at the same time as former President Donald Trump, Johnson defended Trump in both of his Senate impeachment trials. He also voted against bipartisan legislation to codify same-sex marriage.
Mr Johnson was instrumental in drafting the Stop the Sexualization of Children Act late last year, but the bill was never tabled. It would have stopped the use of federal funds to “develop, implement, facilitate or finance any sexually oriented program, event or literature” for children under 10. Those pushing the bill argued it would keep inappropriate material away from children, while critics said it was a push to prevent gay representation.
‘Someone who doesn't hesitate to scream his hatred for the LGBTQ+ community,' says HRC president
Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign; he tweeted on Wednesday: “Mike Johnson is someone who does not hesitate to shout his hatred of the LGBTQ+ community from the rooftops, introducing legislation that seeks to erase us from society and history. Everyone who voted for him will have a stain on their record.”
Records show Mr Johnson first worked for the ADF in 2002, according to the ABC. The Southern Poverty Law Center said the group has “advocated for the recriminalization of sex acts between consenting LGBTQ adults in the US and criminalization abroad.”
The center noted that the group argued that what they called the “homosexual agenda” would “destroy Christianity and society.” The group has a number of views aimed at limiting the lives of LGBT+ people.
ADF senior counsel Jeremy Tedesco told ABC the group is “one of the US Supreme Court's most respected and successful advocates working to preserve the fundamental freedoms of speech and religion for all Americans.”
He also argued that the Southern Poverty Law Center's “end game” is “tyranny, not tolerance.”
While working as a lawyer for ADF, Mr. Johnson pushed for a statewide ban on same-sex marriage in Louisiana, a measure supported by voters in 2004. It was one of several similar restrictions passed that year.
Representative Mike Johnson was elected Speaker of the House
There is a push to take healthcare away from gay couples
He also filed a lawsuit in 2003 against a New Orleans law that provided benefits to the same-sex partners of people who worked in the city, but a state court ruled in favor of the city.
“The state has been very clear that municipalities should not have the right to enter this arena — family redefinition,” Mr. Johnson said at the time.
As he argued against including same-sex partners in city employee health plans, Mr. Johnson said, “When you break down taboos, doors open for everything. That's the danger.”
“We're not trying to associate homosexuality with pedophilia, but when you break down a barrier, others fall. … Let's stop here and draw the line here, because then it leads to sexual anarchy,” he argued, according to ABC.
“Gay marriage is the dark harbinger of chaos and sexual anarchy”
In another column for The Shreveport Times, Published in February 2004, Mr. Johnson wrote: “Family advocates are often asked these days, ‘Why should you care?' Why is same-sex marriage a threat?' The answer is simple: because we violate God's created order at our peril.”
“If activist judges can throw out thousands of years of history and legalize same-sex marriage, then transgender and group ‘marriage' of all kinds must logically follow… Experts suggest that same-sex marriage is the dark harbinger of chaos and sexual anarchy that even the strongest democracy could condemn,” he added.
The independent reached out to Mr. Johnson's office for comment.
Johnson defended Louisiana's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage before the state's highest court in the mid-2000s.
“The amendment has one purpose: to protect marriage from attack,” he told the justices, according to ABC, citing news reports at the time.
During his time in the state house between 2015 and 2017, Mr. Johnson introduced a bill that they argued would protect people from deviating from their religious beliefs, but which critics argued would make it easier to discriminate against burden of LGBT+ people.
Quoting a Democrat, Mr. Johnson he said The Times-Picayne “I'm not a ‘despicable bigot of the highest order', 2015.
“I know I brought this bill for the right reason,” he added. “Defending freedom is never easy. There is always a cost.”
The bill did not become law.