JIM LEHRER: Politics and homosexuality. Spencer Michels begins.
SPENCER MICHELS: Congress began debating today several pieces of legislation that confront the issues surrounding rights for gays and lesbians. Those rights have taken center stage on Capitol Hill after Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott discussed his views on homosexuality with conservative talk show host Armstrong Williams.
ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: The act of homosexuality in and of itself was a sin. It is a sin.
SEN. TRENT LOTT, Majority Leader: It is. My father had that problem, as I said, with alcoholism. Other people have sex addiction. Other people, you know, are kleptomaniacs. I mean, there are all kinds of problems and addictions and difficulties and experiences with things that you-that are wrong, but you should try to work with that person.
SPENCER MICHELS: Lott's remarks prompted outrage from gays and lesbians and others nationwide, including Representative Barney Frank, an openly gay congressman.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: But it's one thing to say that you personally, your religion believes something is a sin. It's another to demean people by comparing a basic personal condition, which doesn't hurt anybody else, to kleptomania, to alcoholism. It's that kind of negativism that makes me think we're really into some sort of political demagoguery here.
SPENCER MICHELS: Following Lott's comments, a coalition of conservative religious groups started a major lobbying and advertising campaign aimed at stopping Congress from passing what it considers gay rights legislation. The coalition spent $200,000 for ads in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today, focusing on Senator Lott's opinion that the lifestyle is a sin and that gays can be cured and become straight by having counseling.
A gay rights organization, the Human Rights Campaign, countered with its own advertisements in USA Today showing a family seen with a contented couple and their gay daughter. And today in another attempt to limit gay rights, the House is scheduled to vote on an amendment to a housing appropriations bill. If passed, the amendment by California Republican Frank Riggs would cut off federal housing money to San Francisco because the city requires contractors to offer benefits like insurance to the gay partners of their employees. The city and the people who use federal money to pay for their housing could lose as much as $260 million.
Later this week, GOP Congressman Bill Hefley from Colorado will try to cripple President Clinton's executive order prohibiting discrimination in the federal work force based on sexual preference. An amendment to a House bill is expected that would prohibit the government from spending any money to enforce the President's order that was issued last May. In a statement written in June, Hefley said, "We do not support discrimination. We also do not believe in giving special protected status because of sexual orientation." Today the National Organization for Women held a rally opposing Hefley's measure.
PATRICIA IRELAND, President of NOW: The Hefley amendment is clearly an election year effort to placate the right wing of the Republican Party and not mobilize those who believe in equalities in the work place.
SPENCER MICHELS: Another battle is continuing in the Senate, where a group of conservative Republican Senators are blocking the confirmation of openly gay philanthropist James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg because of his sexual preference. Sen. Lott said this week the nomination is not likely to come to the floor this year.