While Russian president Vladimir Putin celebrates his success in taking Crimea away from Ukraine and using his bully pulpit to excoriate the West, Franklin Graham is endorsing Putin’s campaign against homosexuals. 

Graham, who now leads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association founded by his father, wrote the lead article in the March issue of Decision magazine, which also featured Putin on the cover. He doesn’t agree with all of Putin’s actions, but praises him for having “taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.”

One would think that gay and lesbian persons are standing on street corners in seedy overcoats, looking for children they can recruit as potential partners.

It doesn’t work that way. 

People do not choose to become homosexuals because a gay-rights evangelist has persuaded them to forsake their heterosexual nature, or because it’s a popular thing to do. When people acknowledge that they are wired toward a different sexual orientation, it is often despite cultural and religious pressures against coming out, and normally a very hard thing to do.

Here’s what frightens Putin and other homophobic folk: they know that if nations are more accepting of gays and lesbians, it is only natural that many people who have lived in fear may feel the liberty to come out of their culturally-imposed closets. A more tolerant society does not create more homosexuals: it simply allows them to live in peace. 

That is why Russia’s new law, like recent decrees in Nigeria and Uganda, pretend to be directed against “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors” when they are really about intolerance. For those who promote anti-gay legislation, the simple act of seeking acceptance and respect amounts to propaganda. As a result, gay people who are minding their own business can end up being arrested, beaten, imprisoned, or killed (see stories from Nigeria, Uganda, Russia).

At least Graham’s anti-gay rhetoric has not reached the levels of Fred Phelps, now reportedly near death. Phelps’ virulent “God hates fags” preaching made him such an icon of hate that he probably did more to encouage sympathy for gays than to turn people against them. 

And this is why draconian laws designed to “protect” children, marriage, or society from the imagined dangers of accepting gay and lesbian people are bound to do more harm than good, even for their own cause.

People of good will may disagree on whether homosexual relations meet biblical or Quranic or Stalinist standards of morality, but refusing basic rights to anyone betrays the standards of humanity.

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