Tony Perkins’ objective is to “reclaim the culture for Christ” by influencing public policy, a goal he has pursued most prominently as the president of the Family Research Council (FRC) since 2003. FRC, which has been dubbed an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, bills itself as “the leading voice for the family in our nation's halls of power” and throws itself into the various conservative social issues, including abortion, pornography, marriage equality (or what it calls “counterfeit marriage”), and religious liberty, that are denoted by its promise to advance “faith, family and freedom.” FRC’s legislative arm, Family Research Council Action, hosts the Values Voters Summit, an annual gathering of the religious right that consistently draws the biggest names in conservative politics.
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, FRC is funded mostly through tax-deductible donations, lately in the range of $11-13 million per year. FRC’s notable funders include the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the Friess Family Foundation, among others. According to its tax filings, in 2009 the organization spent a total of $12.5 million, $4.7 million of which went towards influencing public policy, including the production of “research papers, legal briefs, and regular publications.” Another $350,000 went to lobbying. One project it proudly highlights on its 990 is a documentary on what it calls the “dangerous” Employment Non-Discrimination Act. FRC takes credit for thwarting the advancement of that legislation, which would have protected LGBT employees against unwarranted firings and other discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, an effort Perkins belittled as “the Crossdresser Protection Act.”
Like labeling an anti-discrimination bill “dangerous,” the effort to frame the extension of equal rights and protections to LGBT people as an infringement upon the rights or religious freedoms of others permeates the FRC’s approach to many topics. Its stated position on “homosexual conduct” is that it is “harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large.” It has produced an entire brochure titled “The Other Side of Tolerance: How Homosexual Activism Threatens Liberty.” In another pamphlet, Peter Sprigg, an FRC Senior Fellow for Policy Studies, has listed the top 10 ways that “society could be harmed by legalizing same-sex ‘marriage’" (scare quotes original), including a warning about legalized polygamy and some rather gloomy predictions about growing legions of fatherless children.
Perkins himself is prone to making outlandish statements. He has called the Violence Against Women Act – an anti-domestic violence bill that funds shelters and hotlines – “a cheap political trick” and “a slush fund for the feminist lobby.” He has dismissed bullying as a factor in a trend of suicides among gay teens, explaining that LGBT kids are driven to depression because they know homosexuality is “abnormal.” He has perpetuated the outright lie that gay men are more likely to be pedophiles. Yet Perkins’ hateful rhetoric hasn’t gotten him or other FRC representatives barred from the major cable news channels, where they frequently appear during segments on social issues. Notably, Perkins was able to become a major public voice railing against the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which he said would expose soldiers to sexual assault and HIV and weaken the military to the point that it “just does parades and stuff.”
Prior to joining FRC, Perkins, a graduate of evangelical right-winger Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, served two terms as a Louisiana state representative, where he authored a variety of bills pushing a conservative evangelical agenda. One would have provided for “daily time of silent prayer in Louisiana public schools.” Another was the nation’s first “Covenant Marriage” law, which created a second variety of state-sanctioned marriage in Louisiana that is much more difficult to enter into or to end via divorce than a standard legal marriage.
His political career ended when he lost a 2002 GOP primary for the U.S. Senate, partly because questions arose about Perkins’ ties to white nationalist figures. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, in 1996 Perkins paid to use former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke’s mailing list on behalf of Woody Jenkins’ Senate campaign, which Perkins was managing – and then tried to cover it up by filing false disclosure forms. He’s also spoken before a white nationalist group called the Council of Conservative Citizens.