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Elsewhere in the debate, he explained that "marriage is a sacred thing to tens of millions of people. Why all at once should I be able to take that word and apply it to this situation and the heck with what all these other people have understood it to be? . . . I mean, homosexuals have high incomes; they have high levels of education; they're owners of major credit cards. There was a survey done. So you're not talking about poor people, homeless people living under a bridge. We're just trying to protect what is ours and has been ours."
Several frustrated law students pressed for a meaningful answer. "Love is between, uh, there is [sic] three kinds of love, and it can only go so far with a same-sex gender," said Sheldon. "It can't produce children—unless there's artificial insemination. You cannot have grandchildren, you see. It just doesn't add up from that standpoint. So this is what this is all about."
Toledano, who is gay and heads Orange County's No on Knight campaign, dismissed Sheldon's answers. He pointed out that under current law, government confers upon married heterosexuals 1,049 federal benefits. "Every single convoluted answer we get from the supporters of Prop. 22 means exactly nothing," Toledano said. "We're coming to the understanding that when two people love each other and care for each other, the interests of the state should support that. Healthy people don't care about other people's sex lives. . . . A marriage that needs protection from the happiness of other people is not a marriage at all."
Current state law already limits marriage —and all its attendant benefits—to heterosexuals. That didn't stop Sheldon from selling Prop. 22 as the only thing standing between civil society and Sodom. If Prop. 22 fails at the polls, Sheldon warned the audience, its defeat would represent "a major change" that "would have to be reflected in textbooks that would advocate that homosexuality is a very viable life alternative," he said. "So this would be one very clear point that would happen to our children."
One student questioned the stark hypocrisy of denying decades-long, stable gay couples marriage licenses when heterosexuals flaunt their ability to marry under the wildest of circumstances, say, on the TV show Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? or Dennis Rodman's on-again-off-again 1998 marriage to Carmen Electra in the wee hours of the morning after a wild night of partying and gambling in Las Vegas. Sheldon merely shrugged his shoulders. Apparently sensing he hadn't won the audience, the diminutive white-haired reverend glanced around the auditorium, gently massaged his hands together, and tried one last time. He said slowly, "Two men cannot bond like a man bonds with a woman."
"How do you know?" Toledano fired back.
The students burst into laughter but never got their answer.
* * *
That Sheldon could not provide a clear, logical explanation for Prop. 22 at Whittier Law School was not surprising. After all, this is a man who is accustomed to uttering colorful, chapter-and-verse sound bites without having to intelligently answer pesky follow-up questions. When asked by a student why he had tied homosexuality to molestation during his speech, the reverend vehemently denied doing so. Mere minutes before, Sheldon had said, "Gender-identity conflict arises out of molestation of little girls and boys at young ages."
That's not Sheldon's only striking contradiction. Though he adamantly rails against abortion and gambling, the Weekly reported two years ago that the reverend officially endorsed racetrack-gambling legislation proposed by one of the Republican Party's major contributors, an Orange County abortion doctor named Edward Allred.
And the contradictions don't end there. For years, Sheldon has argued that same-sex relations were "unnatural." It was, therefore, fascinating to watch the reverend make the case—albeit inadvertently—for homosexuality.
"I remember very clearly when I was in elementary school and girls were just downright icky. You got cooties from them. You didn't want to touch them," said Sheldon, who has claimed that as much as 25 percent of adolescents "experiment" with homosexuality. "And I can remember when I was in junior high when I could hardly take my hands off [girls]. In fact, that attraction is what must—is part of the beast. It [homosexuality] has to be refined, tamed, and brought into commitment and brought into love. . . . Homosexuality is only an underdeveloped stage of heterosexuality.
According to the reverend, humans have not a genetic predisposition but a "propensity" for homosexual behavior. Same-sex relationships are apparently so appetizing that exposure risks not just tolerance or acceptance but also full-blown participation. That is why Sheldon and the other Prop. 22 advocates so strenuously reject anything other than complete public repudiations of homosexuality. Their position is the ultimate back-handed compliment to the potential attractiveness of gay marriage. "You know, there's an old saying," the reverend said. "Monkey see, monkey do."
* * *
Of course, we're not talking about monkeys but humans, adult American citizens who are entitled to equal rights, equal legal protections, and the freedom to decide for themselves who they love and want to share their lives with. Sheldon and the 43,000 churches he claims to represent have every right to decide whom they will marry. But the question remains: What overarching interest does the government have in denying homosexuals full citizenship rights and the right to state-recognized civil marriages?
Sheldon thinks he has the answer.
"We believe all men are created equal," he said confidently. "All homosexuals can get drivers' licenses."