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Is Anti-Gay Group "Focus on the Family" Dying as Donations Drop? A Look Back at 7 of Their Strangest and Most Appalling Moves

As donations fall and jobs are cut, are Focus on the Family's days of using gay rights as a wedge issue finished?

When George W. Bush defeated John Kerry for the presidency in 2004, pundits claimed that the wedge issue of gay marriage--up for popular vote in many a state that went "red"--had been a deciding factor, the boogeyman reason many middle American types couldn't commit to a Democrat.

At the time, gay marriage felt like a third rail, and a hopeless one. Prominent right-wing groups like Focus on the Family and its allies seemed successful in their efforts to "otherize" LGBTQ Americans and use bigotry and fear to prevent progress.

Fast-forward to today and the situation has become almost the opposite. Affable, non-confrontational Jay Leno is (affably) hounding Michele Bachmann for her opposition to gay rights, "dont' ask don't tell" is due to expire tomorrow with nary a credible protest, and the GOP field is avoiding discussing gay rights in debates.

In this climate, Focus on the Family is experiencing a record plummet in donations--by $15 million dollars--which has led it to yet another round of layoffs ( it let 202 people go in 2008) with its leader admitting a diminishing influence on acceptance of gays.

From the Denver Post:

Conservative Christian ministry Focus on the Family announced today it is eliminating 49 jobs in the latest of several rounds of layoffs in response to ongoing economic pressures.

The family-counseling center in Colorado Springs had a $105 million budget this fiscal year ending Sept. 30, but officials project it will receive donations of only $90 million to $95 million.

This new 7 percent staff reduction brings the employee number to 650, down from a 2002 peak of 1,400 people. In the last few years, Focus has let go almost 500 workers. 

While the Focus on the Family Web site is all sunshine and roses, with pro-family, Christian-tinged advice for the troubled and so forth, much of its nasty political activity takes place under the moniker CitizenLink, where all the headlines are pro-abstinence, anti-choice and anti-gay.

But now, of course, those items are prefaced by a massive appeal for funding. 

The recession surely has contributed to this, but so has the growing popular and mainstream acceptance of gay rights, including gay marriage, particularly among young people and celebrities. Just last year, Focus on the Family's new CEO, Jim Daly,  acknowledged that they'd probably lost the issue.

“We're losing on that one, especially among the 20- and 30-somethings: 65 to 70 percent of them favor same-sex marriage,” Daly said in the interview. “I don't know if that's going to change with a little more age—demographers would say probably not. We've probably lost that.”

Daly's group has frequently claimed to have a "love the sinner, hate the sin" mentality, assuring people they weren't out to impinge on anyone's constitutional rights. Nonetheless, their advocacy hasn't been simply anti-marriage: it's been anti-protection for LGBT Americans.

As notes about the shrinking donations for Focus on the Family:

Focus on the Family has spent millions of those dollars fighting laws that recognize gay and lesbian unions – either marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships – and the repeal of “Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” the policy set to expire on Tuesday which bans gay and bisexual troops from serving openly. The group has also railed against laws that protect transgender people from discrimination."

One of the most amazing things about this reversal of momentum on gay rights is that while "social issues" used to be seen as a potential drag for the left, gay rights are actually now buoying other issues in some mainstream venues. For instance, the NCAA actually pulled a Focus on the Family "pro-life" ad from its Web sites after members complained about the advertiser's virulent lobbying for anti-gay causes, which conflicts with the school associations' non-discrimination policy.