In a commencement speech at Liberty University this morning Mitt Romney praised anti-gay pastor Jerry Falwell and the founder of Chick-fil-A, a fast food chain that has donated millions to anti-gay groups. Falwell, who passed away in 2007, was the founder of Liberty University and an outspoken opponent of homosexuality.
“In his 73 years of life, Dr. Falwell left a big mark,” Mr. Romney said today. “The calling Jerry answered was not an easy one. Today we remember him as a courageous and big-hearted minister of the Gospel who never feared an argument, and never hated an adversary. Jerry deserves the tribute he would have treasured most, as a cheerful, confident champion for Christ.”
Falwell gained national fame in the late 1970′s working with former beauty pageant winner Anita Bryant on her efforts to fight an ordinance prohibitng discrimination against gays in Florida. During that campaign, Falwell gave a speech in Miami where he said “so-called gay folks would just as soon kill you as look at you.” He has also condemned gays as “brute beasts . . . part of a vile and satanic system” that “will be utterly annihilated” leading to “a celebration in heaven.” In 1999, Falwell denounced the popular children’s show Teletubbies because he felt one of the costumed characters on the show, “Tinky Winky,” was sending covert gay signals because he was purple and had a triangle shaped antennae.
“As a Christian I feel that role modelling the gay lifestyle is damaging to the moral lives of children,” Falwell said of the Teletubbies.
In his speech at Liberty, Mr. Romney shared his own memory of Falwell:
“I will always remember his cheerful good humor and selflessness. Several years ago, in my home, my wife and I were posing for a picture together with him. We wanted him to be in the center of the photo, but he insisted that Ann be in the middle, with he and I on the sides. He explained, by pointing to me and himself, ‘You see, Christ died between two thieves.’”
Mr. Romney also praised Truett Cathy, the founder of the Chick-fil-A sandwich chain, who was also being honored at the commencement. Chick-fil-A has been boycotted by gay rights groups for donating large sums of money to groups that condemn homosexuality and fight gay marriage.
“The Romney campaign comes to a sudden stop when we spot a Chick-fil-A. Your chicken sandwiches were our comfort food through the primary season, and there were days that we needed a lot of comforting,” Mr. Romney said to Mr. Cathy in his speech. “So, Truett, thank you and congratulations on your well-deserved honor today.”
In the wake of President Barack Obama’s announcement in support of same sex marriage last week, gay rights and specifically Mr. Romney’s record on the issue have increasingly come into the spotlight. Though he was a supporter of gay marriage during his early career in Massachusetts, in recent years, Mr. Romney has fought against same sex marriage. In his speech at Liberty, he reiterated his opposition to gay marriage.
“The American culture promotes personal responsibility, the dignity of work, the value of education, the merit of service, devotion to a purpose greater than self, and, at the foundation, the pre-eminence of the family,” Mr. Romney said. “As fundamental as these principles are, they may become topics of democratic debate. So it is today with the enduring institution of marriage. Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.”