WASHINGTON — The allegation appeared on a website last month: A conservative Republican congressman, Edward L. Schrock of Virginia, was secretly gay. It was picked up by other sites — and on Monday, Schrock withdrew his bid for reelection, saying only that his campaign could no longer focus on his district's issues.
The Web posting was the latest move in an intensified campaign by gay activists to fight what they perceive as antigay legislation by "outing" lawmakers who they believe to be gay and who vote for the measures — including the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would amend the Constitution to say that only men and women can enter into a legal marriage.
The outing campaign is a new tactic in a battle between some gay activists who decry what they call the hypocrisy of closeted gays who support the amendment or work for lawmakers who back it, and those who assail the tactic as an invasion of privacy. It comes as Republicans have ratified a platform at their party convention in New York supporting President Bush's call for the amendment, which would effectively ban same-sex marriage.
The Gay, Lesbian & Allies Senate Staff Caucus criticized the outing campaign, calling it "counterproductive."
"We are troubled by this idea that staffers must agree with their bosses on every issue or they are somehow 'hypocrites' and should, consequently, be harassed," the group says on its website.
Steven Fisher, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest advocacy group for gay and lesbian issues, said his organization opposed using "sexual orientation as a weapon."
Christopher Barron, political director of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay group, said: "We disagree strongly with the outing campaign, but we also strongly disagree with President Bush's sponsorship of the antifamily Federal Marriage Amendment. It is all very unfortunate."
The debate over the outing campaign intensified after Schrock, who represents the conservative military cities of Norfolk and Hampton Roads, abruptly announced Monday that he would not seek reelection to a third term.
His announcement came after Michael Rogers, a gay-rights activist in Washington, posted on his website a recording of a phone call that he alleged was placed by Schrock to a gay dating service several years ago.
Schrock, 63, a retired Navy captain who is married, did not comment on Rogers' allegations. His office issued a written statement saying that his decision to withdraw from the race was spurred by unspecified allegations that have "called into question" his ability to serve in Congress.
His office did not return a call Tuesday.
A House GOP leadership aide who spoke on condition that he not be identified said Tuesday that Schrock's "initial instinct was to fight this thing tooth and nail, but [he] wound up deciding that he didn't want to drag his family through it."
Rogers defended his actions, saying he was determined to expose officials who vote against gay rights while maintaining a secret gay life and to reveal the sexual orientation of closeted gay staffers who work for lawmakers who support antigay legislation.
"This is about exposing hypocrisy," he said in an interview.
Schrock is among 127 House sponsors of the amendment. The Senate blocked the measure in July; the House is expected to vote on it this fall.
Schrock also voted in July for a House-approved bill designed to let state courts, rather than federal courts, decide whether states should recognize out-of-state marriages between people of the same sex.
Rogers, 40, a fundraising consultant, said he started his website in July after Bush announced his support of the constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage.
Rogers said an anonymous tipster sent him a recording of the call allegedly made by the congressman. Rogers said he called the lawmaker's office several times, but was hung up on.
In one of the postings on Rogers' Web log, a reader wrote: "Certainly I have mixed feelings on outing. But not when it comes to hypocrites who are actively working to perpetuate the hatred and discrimination we face."
Another posting says, "I do not understand a site such as yours that fights hate and bigotry with a very similar type of hate and attacks…. What have you accomplished by outing these men?"
John Aravosis, a Washington political consultant, runs http://www.DearMary.com , a website that encourages supporters to write Vice President Dick Cheney's openly lesbian daughter, Mary, entreating her to lobby her father against Bush administration policies.
Aravosis said the White House all but invited the outing tactic by endorsing the constitutional amendment.
"They declared war," he said. "We're not going to respond with a hug."
He said he had qualms about outing people — "and I still do, you're talking about someone's personal life, something that can cause them real pain."
But he said Bush's endorsement of the Federal Marriage Act in February "changed everything. They dropped the legislative equivalent of a nuclear bomb."
A former staff lawyer to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Aravosis compared the campaign to the superpower nuclear showdown during the Cold War.
"Mutual assured destruction worked once," he said. "Maybe it will again."
Saying the White House has used gay issues as a wedge to win support from its conservative base, Aravosis added, "If they want to call a truce, our phone lines are open."
© 2004 Los Angeles Times