NEW YORK — As the gay-rights movement advances, there's increasing evidence of an intriguing role reversal: Today, it's the conservative opponents of that movement who seem eager to depict themselves as victims of intolerance.
To them, the gay-rights lobby has morphed into a relentless bully — pressuring companies and law firms into policy reversals, making it taboo in some circumstances to express opposition to same-sex marriage.
"They're advocating for a lot of changes in the name of tolerance," said Jim Campbell, an attorney with the conservative Alliance Defense Fund. "Yet ironically the tolerance is not returned, for people of faith who don't agree with their agenda."
Many gay activists, recalling their movement's past struggles and mindful of remaining bias, consider such protestations by their foes to be hollow and hypocritical.
"They lost the argument on gay people and now they are losing the argument on marriage," said lawyer Evan Wolfson, president of the advocacy group Freedom to Marry. "Diversions, scare tactics and this playing the victim are all they have left."
He added: "There's been a shift in the moral understanding of people — that exclusion from marriage and anti-gay prejudice is wrong. Positions that wouldn't have been questioned in the past are now being held up to the light."
Among the recent incidents prompting some conservatives to complain of intolerance or political bullying:
Olympic gold medal gymnast Peter Vidmar stepped down as chief of mission for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team in May following controversy over his opposition to gay marriage. Vidmar, a Mormon, had publicly supported Proposition 8, the voter-approved law passed in 2008 that restricted marriage in California to one man and one woman.
After coming under fire from gay-rights groups in April, the Atlanta-based law firm King & Spalding pulled out of an agreement with House Republicans to defend the federal ban on same-sex marriage.
In New York, state Sen. Ruben Diaz, a Democrat from the Bronx, contends he's received death threats because he opposes legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. The alleged threats were cited last week by the New York State Catholic Conference, which also opposes gay marriage.
"We are unjustly called 'haters' and 'bigots' by those who have carefully framed their advocacy strategy," wrote the conference's executive director, Richard Barnes. "The entire campaign to enact same-sex marriage is conducted under a banner of acceptance. ... Yet behind that banner of tolerance is another campaign — of intimidation, threats and ugliness."
Apple Inc. recently withdrew two iPhone apps from its App Store after complaints and petition campaigns by gay-rights supporters.
One app was intended to publicize the Manhattan Declaration, a document signed in 2009 by scores of conservative Christian leaders. It condemns same-sex marriage as immoral and suggests that legalizing it could open the door to recognition of polygamy and sibling incest.
The other app was for Exodus International, a network of ministries which depict homosexuality as a destructive condition that can be overcome through Christian faith.
In both cases, gay activists celebrated the apps' removals, while the apps' creators contended their freedom of expression was being unjustly curtailed.
"The gay-rights groups have shown their fangs," wrote Chuck Colson, the Watergate figure turned born-again Christian who helped launch the Manhattan Declaration. "They want to silence, yes, destroy those who don't agree with their agenda."
Exodus International president Alan Chambers, who says he changed his own sexual orientation through religious counseling, said he was alarmed by the aggressive tactics of "savvy gay activists."
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